MONTREAL, April 11, 2012 – Guest speaker Frank O’Dea, co-founder of the Second Cup chain of gourmet coffee and tea shops, recounted how “hope, vision, action” helped him rise from a life of homelessness and poverty on the streets of Toronto to become a successful businessman, entrepreneur and philanthropist.
“Those three words are the hallmarks of my life. I had hope, some vision and went into action. And out of that came Second Cup,” he told a large crowd at Marymount Adult Centre in Côte St. Luc on April 5 as the English Montreal School Board marked Adult Learner’s Week, an annual celebration of lifelong learning.
As a teenager Mr. O’Dea attended what was then known as Marymount High School (now Marymount Academy) in N.D.G.
Born and raised in Montreal West and the son of a plant manager, Mr. O’Dea discovered alcohol as a teenager, and drank whenever he had the chance. By the time he was 21, his father asked him to leave the family home until he fixed his problem. He went to Oakville, Ontario, where he continued to drink, lost job after job and by the time he reached Toronto, was reduced to delivering flyers, living in flop houses in one of the city’s toughest neighborhoods and had nothing but the clothes on his back.
However, thanks to the faith of a paint store owner who gave him a job at his store, and his determination to conquer his alcoholism, helped turn Mr. O’Dea’s life around. While working on a Toronto candidate’s campaign during the 1974 federal election, he had a chance encounter with Tom Culligan, who was so impressed with Mr. O’Dea’s networking skills, that he suggested they go into business together. The business in particular was a coffee store in Burlington, Ontario. With $1,000 and very little business experience, the two decided to turn the store from a dry goods business to one where someone can buy a good cup of gourmet coffee at a premium price as a means of treating yourself. Out of that principle led to the evolution of Second Cup, one of the largest chains of gourmet coffee stores in Canada.
Mr. O’Dea also told the audience how through chance encounters, he managed to establish the philanthropic and charitable organizations that he has dedicated a good part of his life and efforts to. He co-founded Street Kids International, an organization geared towards helping homeless children in third world countries through education and self-reliance programs, as well as War Child (Canada), which gives assistance against the suffering and abuse of children in war torn countries; and the Canadian Landmine Foundation, which raises funds towards the efforts of dismantling landmines around the world. He is also involved with the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research and helps build much needed housing in Brazil.
“When each of us passes on, and we know that we have made a difference in our community and around the world, then the journey is worth it,” added Mr. O’Dea.
Mr. O’Dea also praised the students from the EMSB’s Adult Education and Vocational Services (AEVS) centres who were in attendance that morning, for how they were increasing the likelihood for their own success by taking AEVS classes. “I am overwhelmed with enthusiasm and impressed by what you’re doing,” he said. “With hope you are creating a better future for yourselves and you’re taking action everyday by attending classes, because continuing education is critically important. Never give up.”
The Adult Learner’s Week event also awarded Certificates of Recognition to the following students attending the EMSB’s Adult Education and Vocational Services (AEVS) centres, in recognition of their dedication, motivation and commitment to their respective programs of study: Mario Ramon Vincent and Shagufta Jabeen (Galileo Adult Centre in Montreal North); Akalya Thanabalasingham and Natasha Borden (St. Laurent Adult Centre); Nelea Bargan, Socorro Bravo-Hernandez and Joel Elias (Marymount Adult Centre in Cote St. Luc); Philford Griffith and Kimberley Thibodeau (James Lyng Adult Education Centre in St. Henri); Jessica Sandy Desilets Benwell, Mario Polosa, Svetlana Kulyova and William Reyes Leyva, (Distant Education for All Learners – DEAL); Naeim Jebelli Bakht Ara, Karen Ann Keith, Aecy Pahayahay and Joy Goldberg (Shadd Business Centre in N.D.G.); Kyle Johnson (St. Pius X Adult Centre in Ahuntsic); and Hossam Moukhtar Akl and Tania Rahman (Laurier Macdonald Vocational Centre in St. Leonard).