From donor fatigue to funding uncertainty, the not-for-profit sector has its challenges. For two Markham-based charities sharing a similar cause, milestone anniversaries observed this year present philanthropic success stories.

Epilepsy Ontario and Epilepsy Canada are celebrating 60 and 50 years, respectively, in existence this year, looking back at decades of achievement, and the promise of more.

“It is quite a number,” said Epilepsy Ontario’s executive director, Paul Raymond. “It is quite an achievement in the not for profit world considering budget restraints, cuts, and the economy…. That (an organization) that depends on donations has been around for sixty years I think is quite an accomplishment.”

The national and provincial charities used to be officemates, when Epilepsy Canada moved to Markham from Montreal, using space at Epilepsy Ontario’s Steeles and Hwy. 404 office. Now, Epilepsy Canada has its own office on Valleywood Dr., near Woodbine and Highway 7.

Though both charities are headquartered in Markham and want to see epilepsy eradicated, they have very different focuses. The priorities for Epilepsy Ontario, founded in 1956, lie in direct care and support for epileptics and their families, while Epilepsy Canada, which came about 10 years later, in 1966, is focused on research, and the long-term goal of finding a cure for the widely-misunderstood neurological condition.

“The regional and provincial organizations are about education and support and advocacy,” said Gary Collins, president of Epilepsy Canada. “We leave that to them. Our sole mandate is to raise money for epilepsy research.”

Collins pointed to key achievements in the field of epilepsy research like the improvement of magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs) in diagnosing epilepsy, training of service dogs, and drug therapies.

The priority for Epilepsy Ontario, Raymond said, has been through “direct support”, as well as partnerships with other community agencies, like Epilepsy York Region.

“I think part of Epilepsy Ontario’s success and longevity has certainly been its mix of providing direct support and services to people living with epilepsy, and also having a strong focus on advocacy,” he said. “And trying to change at the provincial government level. It’s a fine line between those two programs that has contributed to our success.”

The provincial charity will be moving forward with a major research project in the coming months and years, thanks to a donation specifically earmarked for research.

This won’t take away from any of the direct care programs that the provincial agency runs, nor will it impede Epilepsy Canada’s focus on innovation.

“The number one feather in our cap is our commitment to research,” Collins said. “Organizations over time move off of their core business value and at times put them at risk. Since the beginning, that has been our major focus….We’ve grown our business by doing that.”

Both organizations can agree on a core principle: they want life to be better for people with epilepsy.

“That’s why we’re here,” said Raymond. “We’re available to help, whether it’s someone newly diagnosed or a family member. If we can’t provide the service directly, we will work with one of our partners or community agencies to really try to get them the help that they need when they need it, and as close to home as possible.”