Practice what you preach, they say. And she does.
“I’ve always been involved in my boys’ schools,” says Deanna Biffis-Liakakos, mother of twin boys in Grade 12 at St. Michael’s College School (SMCS), and an alumnus, Class of 2012.
“I always lent a hand in the schools they were in, whether it was fundraising or just general help,” she continues. “Honestly, I think it’s important that parents get involved in their kids’ school and their community. It just makes it a well-rounded experience for everybody – the students, the parents --- the whole school community,” she says.
When she hangs up her hat at the end of the 2019 A Gift of Glamour fashion show, Biffis-Liakakos will end a formidable run --- 10 consecutive years of leading the largest annual fundraiser organized by the SMCS Parents' Association. And 11 straight years of involvement in the event.
“That was the main reason why I did it,” she reflects. “Because I knew the money would go back to the boys for them to enjoy St. Michael’s the way they should. And if the classrooms --- they needed things – the money was there for them. That was a huge thing for me to continue this thing over 10 years.”
THE WHY FACTOR
Her story begins in 2007, the year her eldest of three sons, started at SMCS.
“The first year I came, I didn’t know anybody at the school. First thing I did was I started to attend the monthly PA meetings to learn more about the school and what was going on at the school,” she says. “After a few months, I was approached by one of the committee members of the fashion show that had heard I owned a flower shop,” she says. “I helped with the flowers and I attended the event, which was on a Sunday afternoon and I thought how wonderful it was.”
That year (2008), she was invited to attend the wrap-up meeting.
“They were talking about pros and cons and profit and I was really shocked that the profit was so low. They asked me to come on board the following year. And the following year, I was suggesting changes and trying to make it more profitable.”
And so her tenure as Chair of the event started in 2009 --- one of the longest serving volunteers in the history of the school --- began.
“The event has grown by leaps and bounds due to her dedicated (to her and the event) committees and her exceptional eye for detail,” says Kimm Bailey, Director of Advancement at SMCS. “Her constant desire to increase the ‘wow’ factor in each event. Looking for the best ways to give the attendees the biggest bang for their dollar while ensuring she raises the most money possible. And, her enthusiasm for St. Michael’s can be seen and felt, which gets a lot of people on board to assist her or attend,” says Bailey.
MULTIPLE MOVING PARTS
The role requires a minimum six-month-long effort.
In addition to ensuring the enjoyment of the 500+ guests, there are the participants in the evening, countless volunteers, external vendors, a silent auction, and leading a fashion show committee of about 20 people, on average.
“I have been so fortunate over the years to have amazing committee members who volunteer their time and hard work to assist in making this event so special, “ she says.
Biffis-Liakakos lists her biggest overall challenge over the years as, “trying to get the parents more involved and understanding what the event was for. When you first tell them A Gift of Glamour, no matter how you word it --- I don’t think they expect to see what they see when they come. Once they were in there, I knew they would have a good time and they would come back,” she says.
And they have.
In 2019, the event is expected to raise over $85K, pushing the 10-year-total raised to more than $600,000.
“The proceeds are used specifically by the Parents’ Association to directly spend yearly on the current student body needs for the classroom, clubs, activities, and sport,” says Bailey. “These funds enable support and purchases for items not in the regular budget, but offset needs that have not been budgeted for.”
IMPACT FOR LIFE
Service is something Biffis-Liakakos strongly believes in and practices.
Outside SMCS, she has volunteered for almost 20 years at a treatment centre that supports adults and children with complex disabilities, and she taught cancer patients how to make flower arrangements at Sunnybrook Hospital. “I’ve never seen people so happy,” she says of volunteering in a place where people are fighting for their lives. “That opens your eyes to a lot of things about the world.”
Her efforts earned her recognition as a volunteer from Ontario’s Lieutenant-Governor in 2013.
A Gift of Glamour is one of more than a dozen volunteer activities at SMCS that Biffis-Liakakos has given her time to. The others include: Homecoming, Theatre events, the Annual Golf Tournament and the Mother & Son Mass and Brunch, to name a few.
The impact of her involvement has been felt both ways.
“I don’t have family here. My family is all in Europe,” says Biffis-Liakakos. “My husband is an only child, so he doesn’t have a big family. And just that family feeling in the school really impacted my family. It was great for my kids to be in that environment, because I don’t have a large family. It just felt like a big happy family,” she says.
Her favourite memories of the event? Canadian tenor Michael Burgess of Phantom of the Opera with his surprise performance at the Gift of Glamour in 2011, and in 2017 receiving a personal thank you at A Gift of Glamour event from the students of St. Michael's College School.
THE NEXT CHAPTER
Comfortable with and confident in the foundation that has been set for the Fashion Show, Biffis-Liakakos says whoever follows will need one key characteristic to ensure ongoing success of the event. “They have to have a passion for it. They have to have a passion for knowing where this money is going and how they’re going to help the boys,” she says.
And as her twins get set to graduate in June, and she prepares to ‘retire’ as Chair of A Gift of Glamour and many of her other volunteer roles here --- over a span of 12+ years of having sons at the school --- Biffis-Liakakos looks forward to ongoing relationships and the gift of service to SMCS, in different ways.
“I’m still going to be involved in the school,” she says. “I can’t go cold turkey on them!
I’m not technically an alumnus, but I am a proud alumni mom, so I will always be there.”
BY THE NUMBERS
Gift of Glamour Fashion Show average amounts.
$73,000 – Raised per Fashion Show since 2009
570 – Guest total
570 – Meals served
290 – Silent Auction items
50 – Volunteers per Fashion Show
50 – Show participants (musicians, models, other)
30 – External vendors
18 – Committee members (including alumni parents)
6 – Yearly Committee planning meetings