When I was around 7 or 8 years old, I subscribed to a Canadian children’s magazine that would feature various content regarding things that pertained to kids in my age group around the country. One of the articles featured in this magazine was with a girl named Hannah Taylor. She was the same age as me, but was already on her way to greatness. In her short 8 years, she achieved things that I didn’t even consider fathomable in my lifetime, let alone as an 8 year old. I remember feeling intrigued and inspired, and wishing that I could either 1) be more like Hannah or 2) meet Hannah someday.
Fast forward to 10 years in the future, where I have not only been able to meet Hannah, but have also been privileged enough to call her a close friend.
I had the opportunity to sit down with Hannah and talk to her about her work as founder of the Ladybug Foundation for an article with HerCampus McGill (can be found here) but I also asked her some more questions, to satisfy my own curiosity that had been developing over the past 10 years. Hannah did not fail to impress.
Background: Hannah Taylor is a first year, U0 Arts student at McGill University from Winnipeg, Manitoba. She is the founder of the Ladybug Foundation, a registered charity that raises money and awareness for impoverished people. Ladybug is affiliated with over 60 different shelters, food banks, and soup kitchens across Canada, and their work has directly and indirectly raised over $4 million for the homeless.
Maya Koparkar: So obviously, there’s a story here, as to why you started the Ladybug Foundation. What is it?
Hannah Taylor (HT): When I was five years old, I saw a man eating out of a dumpster. I had never seen something like this before, and was therefore confused and wondered what the man was doing. I asked my mom, and she told me that the man did not have enough food to eat. My five-year old heart could not let go of this. I kept worrying about this man and asking questions about him. One night, as I was being tucked into bed, I asked my mom about the man and she told me “If you do something about it, your heart won’t be so sad”. I ended up giving a talk to my grade 1 class about homelessness, which led to us organizing our first fundraiser, where we collected clothes for a local shelter. I kept speaking to others about what we could do to help. Eventually, my connections got big enough that Ladybug became a registered charity when I was 8 years old. It was then that the worry in my heart started to lift.
MK: What are some of the things you’ve gone to do as a result of your work with the foundation?
HT: I’ve been fortunate to speak at many schools in the past. I love being able to bring that moment of realization that I had when I was younger to kids. We’ve also gone on to create a separate organization called Make Change. It contains a full curriculum that can be taught from kindergarten to Grade 12 with lessons plans aimed at teaching young people that they can make a difference and giving them the tools to follow their passions. It’s currently being taught in over 8000 classrooms in Canada, the US, Singapore, and France.
When I was 9 years old, I was also a member of the Child Jury for the World’s Children’s Prize for the Rights of the Child. The jury was composed for a kids from all over the world working for human rights causes, and would give out prizes for people helping children around the world. As the jury, our job was to pick the nominees. It’s an incredible experience to meet people from all over the world. It definitely makes you watch the news differently. I’ve also been a speaker at We Day with Me to We, as well as met with Prince Charles when he visited my hometown. My experience has brought me all over the world and all across Canada, and I am so lucky.
MK: What would you consider your biggest accomplishment in working with the foundation?
HT: I honestly never thought the foundation would get this big, I just felt that it was something I needed to do. The work itself is so rewarding, because when you give from the heart you get so much back. Giving people hope is my biggest goal, and I especially love it when I can help kids realize “If she can do it, I can do it”.
MK: Has there been a particular person or event that has stood out to you in your time with Ladybug?
HT: When I was 10 years old, I was in Toronto, visiting a shelter for homeless youth that was seeking our support. I was being given a tour, and eventually the kids from the shelter began to join in and tell me stories about their lives and their projects. As I was saying goodbye to everyone, I noticed there was one girl who hadn’t said anything. She must have been older than me, but was so small for her age. She stepped out from the crowd, hugged me, and said, “Before today, I thought that nobody loved me, and now I know that you do”.
MK: What motivates you?
HT: Starting Ladybug was all due to the fact that I had a lightbulb moment at a young age. People have these moments and discover what their passions are. I’m very lucky that I found my passion so early, and this is what keeps me going. I have also been fortunate enough to meet incredible people through the work that I’ve done. Seeing people that are living on the streets but have been so kind and courageous gives me so much and hope and reminds me why this work matters.
MK: Who has been your biggest inspiration throughout this process?
HT: I have been inspired by countless people but there are two in particular that come to mind. The first is my mother. She is the strongest, most loving, caring human being I’ve ever met. The second is a man named Rick, who I met when I was 7 on my first homeless shelter visit. Rick was homeless for 25 years, and prior to this, grew up in a residential school and dealt with addiction problems throughout his life. When I visited his shelter, he gave me a big hug and thanked me so much for caring about everyone in the shelter. Today, Rick is doing incredibly well. He has retired from his job, has his own place to live, and is even part of our advisory board. Rick inspires me because of who he is. He was able to rise above everything he had to deal with in his life, and has always been so wise, generous, and gentle, when life hasn’t been that way to him at all. I call him Mooshum, which means ‘grandpa’ in Ojibway.
MK: Your message is a great one, and I am sure most people agree with the fact that it is one that needs to be heard, but as you well know, there are a fair amount of naysayers. How do you engage people who are apathetic or downright dismissive of your message?
HT: Honestly, if people don’t care about the homeless, I hope they care about something else. Apathy comes from a lack of knowledge and understanding, and stems from the idea that one person isn’t significant enough to make a difference, which doesn’t give you much of a foundation to work off of. One time, when I was 11, I was speaking at a business conference, and a man asked me, “Do you honestly think that this is going to work?”. I told him that we should make sure to share everything and care about each other always, and that this was a good place to start. Then he replied, saying “This will work when pigs fly”. A few weeks later, the same man sent me an email. It said that every morning, on his way to work, he would pass by the same homeless man, and was always so angry. After my talk, he finally gave in and sat down next to the man and had a conversation with him, which made all of his anger go away. I ended up also receiving an ornament in the mail from him. It was a pig with wings. Once this man was able to understand the situation, it made such a change for him.
MK: The McGill community is obviously, no stranger to homelessness. What advice would you give to a student who might see a homeless person while walking along the street to go shopping, for example?
HT: If the person asks from some change, give them some pocket change. If you’re going in to get food, bring out an extra sandwich. Or even simply say “Hello” or ask “How are you?”. Being homeless is incredibly lonely and isolating, and reminding people that they matter is so important. I’m sure everyone knows how good it feels when someone stops to say hi and acknowledge your presence. It’s the same for anyone living on the street.
MK: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
HT: 29….hopefully I’ve graduated from law school, and have traveled a bit and experienced a little bit more and met more incredible people. I want to go into human rights law and I want to do something in the field that makes an impact and helps more people to care.
MK: Where do you see the foundation in the future?
HT: I hope that our education program grows, since it is now entirely online and anyone in the world can access it. I’ll still continue to actively work with Ladybug- my role has changed a little bit because school is so demanding, but I’ve found that Skype is a great tool for speaking. Besides this, I hope that it continues to grow and is able to reach out to a lot more people. Ultimately though, I hope that one day we’re going to be out of business.
One thing that always gets me when it comes to transcript interviews is that people reading the interview don’t have the incredible privilege of experiencing the interview subject talk about one of their passions. For me, that was the best part of my interview with Hannah- watching her face light up as she talks about her work is the unfortunately the most intangible, yet the most rewarding part about interviewing her, and it also tells me that Hannah is someone, who unlike so many philanthropists today, is wholly and truly invested in her work. It’s absolutely incredible how someone so wise and so accomplished beyond her years appears so modest and, dare I say it, normal from the outside. But, as Hannah explained to me, the secret to success is that there is no secret. If she can do it, anyone can.
For more information about the Ladybug Foundation and how you can get involved, please visit http://www.ladybugfoundation.ca/.