It’s not often that James Vigmond is at a loss for words. But if you ask him why he cares so much about supporting the Spinal Cord Injury Ontario community, the co-founder of Oatley Vigmond starts and stops his answer a few times before telling a story.
“I once had a call from a police officer after he suffered a spinal cord injury,” he says. “He had questions about insurance and legal options. But the call was more about his distress. He was in a dark place, emotionally, about his injury. After we hung up, I called Peter right away and said, ‘This guy needs your help.’ In the end, that client lived a long and productive life. That’s the kind of impact that SCIO has.”
Jim is referring to Director of Public Policy Peter Athanasopoulos, who was Peer Support Coordinator at the time. Early in his relationship with SCIO, Jim was highly involved in expanding the peer support program from being available only in Toronto to having seven locations across Ontario.
“What Jim doesn’t say is that 20 years ago, he tackled a critical problem we were facing,” adds Peter. “Two weeks into my role as Peer Support Coordinator, we lost our funding. There was no money for the Peer Support Program. As its very first sponsor, Jim and his firm stepped up and resolved a desperate and precarious situation. We now have one of the best SCI peer programs nationally and internationally. If we want to talk about impact, that is that kind of change that donors like Jim make happen.”
Jim shares SCIO’s vision, which is for those with an SCI to live full, independent lives. Clients call Oatley Vigmond from trauma centres, just as they call SCIO and there is a natural interplay between the supports and services that each organization provides. Whether involved professionally through his legal expertise or philanthropically through his donor support, at the heart of Jim’s work lies deep compassion for people and immense respect for the grit and determination required to recover after an injury.
“I don’t think you can do the work we do without becoming more involved,” says Jim. “This is a quality-of-life issue. And it’s very complicated, which is why it requires a broad approach. Partnerships are critical for getting people with an SCI the best supports and services possible.”
Oatley Vigmond is much more than a law firm…It’s an advocacy firm. It’s also a thought leader in the SCI space. Jim is as much about providing legal support as he is about engaging and mobilizing people with SCI across the province. His dream is that no-one in Ontario, wherever they live, be without the services and supports they deserve. It’s an expansive view informed by a sense of justice and a generous spirit.
After initially getting involved in the Peer Support Program, Jim’s firm and SCIO then partnered to offer “Lunch and Learns” in trauma centres to ensure quality information was available to families immediately after injury. Jim also served as a member of SCIO’s board for about 10 years while continuing to sponsor events like wheelchair relays, comedy nights, ski and snowboard days and many others. And when SCIO’s Public Policy Program was established, Jim became its first sponsor too.
Jim also worked at bringing in additional corporate partners by introducing SCIO to PIA Law, an alliance made up of three Canadian personal injury law firms. PIA Law has a strong history of charitable giving and advocacy support and its network provides more partnership opportunities for SCIO and resources for SCI programming.
“Bringing in more sponsors, donating funds, backing events and supporting advocacy work…all of that has become part of our firm’s culture,” says Jim. It has also become part of his family culture, as Jim’s wife Sharon and daughter Karen are also both avid volunteers with SCIO.
After 20 years of support and over $1M in donations, Oatley Vigmond was approached to become the lead sponsor of SCIO’s 75th Anniversary Gala, which will proceed once it is safe to do so. The firm replied with an enthusiastic “Yes!” and a substantial donation—which has been its theme since the partnership with SCIO began. It’s been two decades of “Yes” and “Where do you need the help?”
“Oatley Vigmond is much more than a law firm,” says Peter. “It’s an advocacy firm. It’s also a thought leader in the SCI space. Jim is as much about providing legal support as he is about engaging and mobilizing people with SCI across the province. His dream is that no-one in Ontario, wherever they live, be without the services and supports they deserve. It’s an expansive view informed by a sense of justice and a generous spirit.”
That generosity goes far beyond dollars. Jim also gives of his time, energy and enthusiasm, with a liberal measure of hope and compassion mixed in. He gets involved where needed and gets out of the way where the expertise of others is required.
But at the core, what is the secret to Jim’s unwavering commitment to the SCIO community? What drives that passion? Again, he finds this question hard to answer, reaching back in time for an explanation.
“My dad’s biggest quality was humility. I think if you see the world through a lens of humility, you look beyond yourself to the needs of others. It’s a quality that initiates a culture of caring and draws like-minded people together. I’m privileged to have some success in what I do. It feels like the right thing to share what I can with others.”