“I just can’t imagine my life not helping others. It’s a huge part of my life, it’s become who I am,” says Brooke Harrison. Photo: Contributed
A young Anglican who has been raising money for various causes since she was six years old was among the recipients of this year’s Top 20 under 20 in Canada.
“I was completely shocked. It was very humbling,” said Brooke Harrison, a member of the youth choir at Trinity Anglican Church in Aurora, Ont. Harrison was chosen from about 600 applicants.
A program of Youth in Motion, the award honours Canadians under the age of 20 who have demonstrated “a significant level of innovation, leadership and achievement.” Youth In Motion is a national charitable organization whose purpose is to “develop and implement dynamic programs for youth.” Apart from a $5,000 scholarship, awardees get paired with an Order of Canada mentor.
Harrison said she learned about compassion and empathy at an early age. At age 6 she wanted to help her cousin, Julianna, who was diagnosed with leukemia. “I was convinced the doctors weren’t doing their jobs. I didn’t see her getting any better,” she said. She decided to raise money by writing short stories and selling them to her parents for nickels and dimes. Her donations were sent to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Canada for childhood leukemia research.
Sensing that their young daughter was serious about her goal, her parents – Dale and Gina – helped Harrison come up with an idea that combined her interests in “baking, cooking and eating.” At the age of 8 she published Cookin’ in Brooke’s Kitchen, a 117 double-sided page cookbook featuring recipes from family and friends that sold for $10 each. A second edition was published when she turned 11 – all 5,000 copies of them printed for free by a charitable printer and sold for $15 each.The two volumes raised $60,000 towards leukemia research. “More importantly, my cousin is now cancer-free,” said Harrison.
She later founded the Youth Advisory Council for the Philip Aziz Centre, a non-profit, home hospice program in Toronto for people living with cancer, HIV/AIDS and other life-limiting illnesses. Harrison and some of her classmates from Aurora High School raised nearly $150,000 for the Centre’s programs assisting the children and families of the clients.
In 2010, the Greater Toronto chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals recognized Harrison with its youth philanthropy award.
Last year, after hearing National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald speak about the plight of aboriginal children in the North, Harrison said she couldn’t sleep. MacDonald had talked about how all the aboriginal people of Canada put together would constitute one of the poorest nations in the world. It was “a really profound statement that just got to me,” she said. “I had no idea this was happening…that children weren’t getting the proper education, they didn’t have beddings to sleep on.”
Harrison decided to ask friends and family for donations of backpacks, toys and school supplies for aboriginal children in need. She connected with the North-South Partnership for Children, which agreed to distribute the donations and invited her to also help out with new or used clothing, beddings and running shoes – items on people’s wish lists. (North-South Partnership is composed of philanthropic groups, universities and private citizens in Southern Ontario and 30 remote first Nations communities in northwestern Ontario.)
Harrison sent an “SOS” to friends and family and was bombarded with donations. “Our living-dining room was covered with boxes from floor to ceiling; our poor dog couldn’t walk around. The basement was full,” she said.
The Ontario Provincial Police helped transport three trailer loads of donations valued at $100,000. It was a 22-hour journey by land from Aurora to Sioux Lookout and by plane to remote communities. Harrison wasn’t in the trip but she got to see the smile on children’s faces from photographs sent to her. “They were more than I could ask for. They were just awesome,” she said.
Harrison and other volunteers are now collecting sports equipment for aboriginal youth in Summer Beaver, Ont., and donations are starting to pile up in her family’s living room once again. Her parents are now used to it. Harrison’s brother, Jordyn, has his own charitable group, Kids to Kids, which provides backpacks or duffle bags filled with back-to-school items for children in need across Ontario. “My parents are amazing. They raised both my brother and I to be really caring and empathetic people,” said Harrison, adding that their support has made all their work possible.
This fall, Harrison is bound for King’s University College at the University of Western Ontario and in what is a natural progression of her interest in philanthropic work she will be studying social justice and peace studies. “I just can’t imagine my life not helping others. It’s a huge part of my life, it’s become who I am,” she said.