When Stewart McLaren, owner of Almac Industrial Systems, first took his two daughters to Theatre Aurora where they had joined, he would never have imagined the change that was in store for his own life.
Long a distant supporter of the arts, when his daughters joined the theatre, Stewart decided to follow suit and get involved. Starting out as a volunteer actor Stewart says that he was “reminded of how fun volunteer work is.” This commitment naturally spiraled into others. “Once you start doing it, you meet like-minded people and you tend to get swept up in it- in a good way,” he said.
Stewart began helping the Theatre in the creation of their annual float for the local Santa Claus Parade; he sat on their Board of Directors, and now also lends his business space for their new projects to rehearse. Last year Theatre Aurora presented Stewart with The ACT-CO President's Award in recognition of his ongoing support and dedication.
Yet, Stewart insists that he is just lending a hand where needed. “I lean more towards the arts community for volunteering because I feel that they get second billing,” said Stewart, who is also an Ambassador for the Aurora Winter Blues Festival, now in its third year. That is not, however, the only sector that benefits from Stewart’s time.
An entrepreneur through and through, Stewart also dedicates much of his time to improve opportunities for small businesses. He is the current Chair of the Board of Directors for Innovator's Alliance, a not-for-profit business advisory organization that he has been a part of for 16 years. “This group really helps small and medium size companies’ CEOs deal with their unique struggles through the peer mentoring,” he said. In addition, Stewart volunteers with the Aurora Chamber of Commerce, which he said is an invaluable organization for small business networking and integration into the community. “These organizations don’t function without volunteers,” he added.
Were it not, however, for his ‘amazing and dedicated’ staff at Almac, Stewart acknowledges that he would not be able to do what he does. “I have such great staff, which allows me the flexibility to give of my time,” he said.
And over the years, as Almac has grown and prospered, Stewart has made a conscious decision to give back and support his community on the monetary side, as well. His company has donated to and sponsored a number of different charities & their events including Big Brothers & Big Sisters of York, Women’s Centre of York Region, Hillary House (national historic site), and The Run For Southlake, to name a few.
The transformative power of giving has had a lasting effect on Stewart, who has even bigger and better plans for the years to come. He says he would like to get more involved in the arts and culture side of the town and has already gotten a jump start at it. 2013 is the Town of Aurora’s Sesquicentennial and Stewart is part of the Advisory Committee planning the festivities. It is something new and fun that Stewart is enjoying, and at the end of the day that is what he says is most important. “You have to be able to have a laugh, make it enjoyable, and just do the best you can,” he said. Words to live by.