The story of The Counselling Foundation of Canada begins with one man’s mission to improve the lives and livelihood of young people and its inevitable growth into an organization that helps to promote the work and enhance the impact of community organizations across Canada.
Frank Lawson was a Toronto businessman and stockbroker who volunteered to become Chairman of the YMCA’s Counselling Service at the end of World War II, which he continued to be involved with for more than 20 years. At the time of assuming this position, career counselling was a relatively new idea and the YMCA was Canada’s biggest purveyor of career and employment services. Between Frank Lawson and the Service’s Director, Gerald Cosgrave, the two developed and promoted career counselling theory and programs across Canada in a way that would influence future generations of organizational leaders.
Mr. Lawson believed counselling was a fundamental step to better identifying career paths for young people. He believed that in understanding a person’s motivations that they could be guided towards a suitable career for their temperament and respective interests. He acknowledged three key facets of life in which young people require guidance: they need to distinguish the kind of work they could do and enjoy; many require the necessary education or training to strengthen their abilities; and, finally, young people often require help in dealing with negative attitudes that might otherwise hold them back from pursuing their goals.
It was based on these three guiding principles that Mr. Lawson founded The Counselling Foundation of Canada in 1959, which he directed until his death in 1984. Among the most important grants that the Foundation awarded during Frank Lawson’s lifetime were those directed towards university career centres. He felt this is where the Foundation’s influence would be most profound while improving technical skills was a secondary concern. The Foundation would fund the start-up costs for these career centres on the understanding that the university would promote a psychological approach to counselling and assume the financial responsibility for the centre once it was up and running.
Two of Frank Lawson’s children, Donald Lawson and Jean Hamm, took leadership of the Foundation after 1984. Donald Lawson assumed the Chairmanship and established a Board of Directors that included both family and non-family members to help grow the Foundation and expand its influence. What had been one man’s private foundation assumed a broader mandate and set out to identify projects to which it could dedicate financial support. Over the years, the Foundation’s mandate evolved and expanded to focus more fully on efforts that would contribute to the total development of the individual. Counselling, mentoring, and volunteering in the community were all developed as pillars of the program, while also maintaining a large role in the professional development of counsellors. More recently, the scope of its mission expanded to include factors that affect future employability, which helps address a number of issues among youth and adults alike.
The Foundation has regularly undertaken strategic planning exercises to review and identify how best to carry out its mission. In 2018/19, the Board of Directors once again embarked on a strategic planning process to help define how to most effectively direct its efforts in the coming years. The combination of research and findings surfaced during this year-long process allowed for a healthy internal discussion leading the Foundation to clarify its mission, vision, values and guiding principles. The resultant Strategic Plan (adopted in December 2019) articulates a renewed focus on the career development sphere and an ambitious agenda to work more collaboratively across sectors.
Today, the Foundation pursues those same ideals that Frank Lawson initiated decades ago with the belief that the future of the career counselling and career development field is important for the personal development and economic prosperity of Canadians.