Young Alumni Award 2018 - Rachel Thompson

Leading a new conversation in health and well-being

Rachel ThompsonRachel Thompson has taken an idea and turned it into a profitable company only three years since her graduation with a Bachelor of Science in Health Studies. Formed from merging the names of both her grandmothers – Marilyn and Helena - Marlena Books is a social enterprise that provides meaningful leisure and cognitive stimulation in the form of reading materials to those with Alzheimer's, dementia or other cognitive disorders.  In doing so, Rachel has found a way for these individuals to maintain their well-being and their relationships with family members and friends.

Self-described as an “accidental entrepreneur,” Rachel started her company after winning the Big Ideas Challenge hosted by St. Paul’s GreenHouse in 2015. She joined GreenHouse with the determination to help make reading enjoyable and dignified again for individuals with dementia. Her vision of providing more support to adults with cognitive deficits motivated her to apply to the Velocity Garage and she was accepted. Like any social entrepreneur, Rachel faced many obstacles in bringing her vision to life. Despite starting her business with limited resources, she has built an organization that has brought hundreds of books and hands-on programming to multiple long-term care facilities across Ontario in the short span of under three years.

Outside of revenue from sales, Rachel has raised over $120,000 in cash and well over $200,000 in in-kind contributions for Marlena Books. She has also won top prize at the Schlegel Village Innovation Den, the $25,000 Velocity Fund Finals and top prize for the Spark Initiative, a national award that supports young social entrepreneurs. Rachel’s leadership is also demonstrated through her ability to mobilize a wide range of community members and advisors across Ontario to help her in carrying out her vision. She continues to build and attract a support network to assist in establishing a business model that will be crucial to scaling the impact of Marlena Books. Additionally, Rachel offers art sessions to individuals with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, who then receive the opportunity to showcase their artwork in specialized Marlena Books and at art galleries.
Like our Faculty’s bold founders, Rachel uncovered an unmet need and created a solution by offering new ways of thinking. She is thereby leading new conversations “by chang(ing) our mindset about people living with Alzheimer’s, dementia and other cognitive challenges.” This commitment aligns with the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences’ focus today and since its founding over fifty years ago:  innovative, multi-disciplinary approaches to health and well-being.