Letter to Hawthorn Members 19TH February 2018

Friends, some of you may have noticed an article in Tuesday’s Age newspaper which correctly reported that Geoff Harris and his family have donated a considerable sum of money to the Hawthorn Football Club.

Their generous gift is the inaugural donation towards the club’s future capital campaign which will underpin the delivery of vital facilities at Dingley and transform our club for our players, staff, members and the local community.

Hawthorn will be the only club in the AFL that owns its own site as all other clubs have their headquarters on Crown, State or Council land.

We at the club are continuing to advance designs for the site which will be a combination of facilities for the Hawthorn Football Club and the community.

We will not put the club's financial position at risk and as such are currently hard at work in the fundraising phase of the project. We have already received significant pledges, which you will hear more about shortly, but have a long way to go.

My reason for writing this letter is to share with you my knowledge of Geoff Harris, his family and his Foundation.

For apart from being very generous donors to our endeavours, their generosity to the community is profound, and to be honest more important.

Firstly Hawthorn. Geoff Harris joined the Hawthorn Football Club Board in 2004. In commercial life prior to that Geoff was one of the Founders, and Directors of Flight Centre. This very successful Australian tourism business which is now international, has delivered its shareholders, of which Geoff is one, considerable financial success because of the hard work and vision.

On joining the Hawthorn Board Geoff recognised the club was in a parlous financial position and his family never wants to see this again hence their donation to the freehold development at Dingley. It was Geoff who under new coach Alastair Clarkson funded the club’s first trek to Kokoda in 2005 to help rebuild morale, leadership and discipline among the entire playing group.

It was that one initiative that started the club’s journey to its first premiership in 2008 and the three successive premierships shortly afterwards.

Geoff has also contributed a large amount of money each year for an Innovation Fund. This money is spent on our people scouring the world for the latest ideas, innovations in sport, equipment, administrative systems or software. Again, it has been at the forefront of Hawthorn being a professional leader in all we do.

The Harris Family also donated the wonderful statue of John Kennedy Snr, our first Premiership coach, who stands overlooking our ground at Waverley. So many of the values of John Kennedy are the foundation that continues to drive the club today.

The statue of John Kennedy will be relocated at the entrance of our new Dingley home when built. Not only to inspire Hawthorn people and players of the future, but those who come from the surrounding community who will utilise our sporting facilities, about values that matter.

These and more are Geoff Harris’ generous financial donations, but one should not overlook the importance of his contribution while on our Board. His values and commercial experience were again a major contributor to our success on field.

Geoff finished his term on the Board in 2013 but his interest and involvement in the club is as passionate as ever, and his son Brad has joined him in the Harris family commitment to our future.

I won’t outline Geoff’s other commercial interests except to say they are many, and equally successful, and he continues to share his success with the community.

But I do want to mention my knowledge of just three of his philanthropic projects, because I think it is important that you do not think of Geoff Harris and his Family as only being benefactors to our endeavours at Hawthorn.

Geoff and his Family have and are major contributors to the Reach Foundation. The organisation that was founded by Jim Stynes and works to assist troubled youth find a balance in their lives and new opportunities.

The Harris family provided the building (The Dream Factory) from which Reach operates rent free on a 50 year lease. This assists Reach to help on average 13,000 young people each year.

The family has also provided a building rent free on a 50 year lease from which the social enterprise Streat operate in Collingwood. This is an extraordinary social enterprise that trains youth at risk with training in hospitality skills such as baking, cooking, front of house, even as baristas.

Again, hundreds of young people have gone through the training, and won jobs in the commercial world and are now very successful independent individuals.

In fact, at the core of the Harris Family’s community activities is giving young people the opportunity to live a dream they never thought possible.

But as they say in the advertisements, there is more.

In what is one of the most innovative endeavours, Geoff and Brad Harris have established Harris Housing. What they are doing here, is working with the State Government and Vic Roads to use underutilised Vic Roads land, on which to build 57 homes for our homeless.

VicRoads make the land available free of charge, the Harris Family donate the housing, and Launch then administer the housing and case manage those who are tenants within these homes.

The first of these homes will be opened in the next few months.

This concept developed by the Harris’s again addresses a social issue with a level of creativity not seen before, and which I am sure will very quickly spread to other States.

The outcome of this endeavour will be a very genuine attempt to rebuild the lives of many of our homeless, so they can live independent rewarding lives.

None of these three organisations would not be delivering such stunning outcomes for human beings without the Harris Family’s generosity.

Why do I write this letter? I am not the Harris Family’s agent. But what they are doing for our community is profound. It is to the advantage of many who live without hope. It restores their dignity and gives them a reason to live.

While I am of course, and we are as Hawthorn members, and as a club, are very grateful for the extraordinary generosity Geoff Harris and his Family has bestowed on us, the Harris family’s work in the community is so much more profound and important.

The values of John Kennedy Snr, and the Harris Family are at our core as a club. Not for personal gain, but for community. Not for self but for team.

My purpose in writing is to let you know among our ranks we have a person and a family that is not only giving Hawthorn the opportunity to live its dream, but for hundreds of people, mainly the homeless and youth at risk, to live theirs.

Have a great day

Jeff Kennett