“Big Red Oak wants us to succeed as much as we want to succeed.”

– Leslie Rocha, Community Program Consultant, CAASCO

Shared objectives, shared values, shared commitment. These are the elements that lay the foundation for a productive partnership: the kind of partnership that Big Red Oak and the Canadian Automobile Association South Central Ontario (CAASCO) have developed over many years, through multiple projects underpinned by strategic planning and creative conceptualization.

The Challenge

CAASCO is very proud of their CAA School Safety Patrol (SSP) program, initiated in 1929 to keep Ontario’s elementary-school children safe through the stewardship of their peers. Leslie Rocha, Community Program Consultant with CAASCO, and the dedicated SSP team recognized the need to expand the awareness of its importance while also expressing gratitude to its young volunteers. The team turned to Big Red Oak with a number of ideas designed to elevate the brand. 

The Solution

Big Red Oak welcomes the invitation to apply its holistic lens to the CAA Community Relations team’s projects, analyzing the objectives and audiences and devising strategies with lasting benefits. “Our work is just the beginning,” Leslie comments. “We start with a thought, a conversation, and ‘half-bake’ it by saying what we want to introduce; then we take it to Big Red Oak who help us fully bake it and turn it into reality.”

Will Murphy, Big Red Oak’s Creative Director, suggested building out a robust year-by-year plan. “A consistent cadence of content effectively promotes pride in CAA’s SSP program,” he says, “and an annual project can keep the spotlight shining on its accomplishments.”

The Creative

Over the years, Big Red Oak has helped CAASCO realize its vision through a number of solutions: short films played in movie theatres, social videos, virtual events and a video series. The CAA SSP campaign was elevated in 2018 with the poignant Spoken Word video, written and performed by poet and storyteller Lishai Peel in recognition of the patrollers’ dedication and generosity.

In 2019, The 45 Dance added a cool element with a stylized video featuring celebrity hosts who were sure to appeal to its young viewers. A finalist in So You Think You Can Dance Canada, renowned choreographer Dwayne “Boneless” Gulston mirrored the school patrollers’ moves through an imaginative dance sequence, partnered by Sarah Barrable-Tishauer, a dynamic DJ who achieved fame as an actor on the popular Degrassi TV series. The 45 Full Story broke down the moves to teach the dance. 

The onset of the pandemic in 2020 brought a new challenge. “We had always held regional movie events for our patrollers,” Leslie explains, “but with COVID, we had to find another approach.” Big Red Oak organized a virtual event, energetically hosted once again by Sarah, who presented games, awards and prizes, interspersed with pre-recorded video messages from the teachers, bus drivers and police officers who support the program. In 2021, the event was reprised on a national scale for participating CAA Clubs across Canada, with a different twist to keep the content fresh.

The SSP Alumni series launched in 2020 crosses the generational divide. Settings, props and memorabilia create a nostalgic backdrop for friendly conversations between a young patroller and an alumnus counterpart. “The idea was to highlight how the principles learned through the SSP program shape today’s patrollers into tomorrow’s leaders,” says Will. Punchy motion graphics, flying paper airplanes, exploding science experiments, a young drummer at his kit … these bursts of energy transform the stories into a memorable visual experience. Among the alumni was Jay Woo, President and CEO of CAASCO, who shares his memories and love of flying with a patroller who dreams of becoming a pilot. SSP Alumni – Jay and Sfiyah

The Result

The SSP projects have all garnered an enthusiastic response. “The key part of our conceptualization focused on the patrollers themselves,” Will says. “It’s all about them … and for them.” Leslie shares his view: “These kids are only 11 to 14 years old, and they stand out in the cold day after day, volunteering their time to keep their peers safe. They need to see and feel how much we appreciate them.” 

Leslie gives kudos to Big Red Oak and the great results they’ve had over the years. “I can actually feel their creative energy bouncing out at me through the screen,” she says. “Sometimes you work with a company that just delivers the product, and that’s the end of it; but with Big Red Oak, it’s not transactional: they’re proud of their work; they’re invested in what we do; they ask ‘How did it go? How was everything?’.”

The Opportunity

These assets can be used to inspire patrollers and stakeholders for years to come, with an artistic dance, an expandable series, and a proven platform for online celebrations. In fact, Leslie sees a silver lining behind the necessity to replace in-person movie nights with a virtual event: “The added benefit is that everyone can join in and share the same experience.  It also allowed us to amplify youth voices in a way we haven’t been able to in the past.” Connecting with a broader audience through a digital medium may well prove its advantage over time.

The long-standing partnership between CAASCO and Big Red Oak has established mutual trust and understanding, as they continue to collaborate on new and innovative ways to celebrate the CAA SSP program’s stories of success.