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Jess Calberry making maple syrup
Jess Calberry (BA '11)

Jess Calberry (BA ’11) taps trees for mental health and finds a silver lining in liquid gold

For Jess Calberry (BA ’11), the silver lining of an otherwise challenging year has been the opportunity to raise money for Laurier students in a unique way. She sells maple syrup that she makes with her father at their family home in the Muskokas.

“Last year when the pandemic hit, I decided to head home to my parents’ place in Muskoka,” says Calberry, who is both a graduate of Brantford’s Contemporary Studies and Psychology program, and the Manager of Off-Campus First Year Initiatives, working on both Laurier’s Waterloo and Brantford campuses. “It was right around the time when we used to tap for maple syrup, something I enjoyed doing with my dad growing up.”

The family decided to do it again in 2020 as way to stay active and connected during the stressful early days of the first wave. It was an activity they hadn’t shared since Calberry moved away from home in the mid-2000s to go to school.

They decided that selling the maple syrup and donating the proceeds to charity would be a great idea. Family and friends could enjoy some fresh maple syrup while donating to their favourite cause. Most gave to the Laurier COVID-19 Emergency Fund.

“Who would have thought that that first two weeks would have spread out to a year,” says Calberry. But it did, and when spring came around again in 2021, she decided to head home again for the summer from her home in Kitchener. “I like returning home for the summers. It gives me an opportunity to spend more time outside by the lake. I am really grateful for the privilege of working at home that allows me to spend time with my family like this.”

Calberry’s father had already started the season, tapping the family trees, when she arrived home on Easter weekend. She helped him boil it down to the sweet syrup (learn about the full process of making maple syrup) and bottle it in preparation for another year of fundraising, this time for mental health initiatives at Laurier.

“I was very inspired working with the Dean of Students Office to distribute Care Kits to students at the end of the winter 2021 term. The project was partially funded through the mental health initiatives fund,” says Calberry. “I saw how directly the fundraising helped students. I told my dad about it and he thought it would be a good way to give back.”

Before you get excited about enjoying some sweet syrup for a good cause, you should know they’ve already sold out (but you can still donate to mental health at Laurier!). They didn’t make as much this year as they hoped to, due to lack of sap water, but are still thrilled by the process and the money raised.

“It’s a really great feeling to be able to reconnect with my family in a way I haven’t been able to since I left home, and also give back to Laurier,” says Calberry.

“Being a Laurier student myself, I saw how much the school cared about students and the time and resources put into the student experience, making sure that everyone had an equitable experience or the experience they wanted,” she continues. “Being able to donate and add to that as alumni is equally meaningful, because I know what it means to students, and how it keeps the community feeling alive.”

So – can anyone tap a maple tree on their block and get fresh syrup? Calberry laughs.

“If a person has a maple tree in the city, they can tap it, but it takes about 150 liters of sap to make about 4 liters of syrup. It’s a lot of work. That’s why we call it liquid gold!”

Hard work that produced double the golden sweetness this year – in syrup and in student support!

Jars of maple syrup.

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