Canada’s Top Teen Philanthropist Winner Sophia Gran-Ruaz
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The 2nd annual Canada’s Top Teen Philanthropist search, created by financial company Mackenzie Investments, has awarded Sophia Gran-Ruaz with a $5,000 donation to the charity of her choice and $1000 for her post-secondary education. The 17-year-old student at John Cabot Secondary School in Mississauga, Ontario, founded Snug As A Bug, Kids Helping Kids six years ago to create care packages for children entering shelters.
“That’s probably the most difficult time for them,” Gran-Ruaz tells Samaritanmag. “Most of them come just with the clothes on their backs because they are fleeing with their mothers because of abusive relationships and things like that. The care packages are all gender and age appropriate and are filled with books, stuff animals, playing cards, puzzles, magazines.”
The Mississauga, Ontario resident created Snug As A Bug after writing a speech about homelessness for school. Accompanied by her father, she went downtown to speak first-hand with people living on the street. “It was an amazing experience, especially being so young. You certainly have stereotypes of what a homeless person is so hearing their stories really broke that stereotype for me,” she says.
Too young to volunteer at most other charities, the enterprising 11-year-old gathered 500 care packages for babies to age 16 and sent them to Interim Place North and South. The second year approximately 1300 care packages were sent to Interim Place North and South, and The Salvation Army Honeychurch Family Resource Centre. The third year over 2300 care packages were created and sent to the previous two shelters, plus VCWRS Women’s Resource Center. And so on, with more packages and more recipients added each year. To date, Snug A Bug has distributed more than 10,000 packages.
The process takes nine months in total. Gran-Ruaz contacts companies herself and asks for donations of items. She is prepared to send pamphlets about Snug A Bug, if needed. When the goods arrive, she organizes them according to age and gender, and stores them until everything comes in. Of course, she sends out a thank you letter. On packaging day, such as next month for the batch of 3000, she contacts her 30 to 40 volunteers, and they all get work. The packages are then delivered by a series of trucks to the shelters and Gran-Ruaz sends out an update letter outlining where they were all sent.
Gran-Ruaz heard about Canada’s Top Teen Philanthropist through a family friend, Robert Propeau, who decided to nominate her. Mackenzie Investments opens the search to anyone 13 to 19 years of age who have donated their time fundraising or volunteering to help his or her community.
“Mackenzie operates a program called the Mackenzie Charitable Giving Fund, where we administer and set-up foundations for individuals,” Brad Offman, vice-president of strategic philanthropy, at Mackenzie Investments tells Samaritanmag. “Part of being in the business of philanthropy we thought it was very important to take on initiatives that we choose.
“In 2007, we launched a children’s book called the Charity Glove, which was designed to help parents teach philanthropy to their youngest children between the ages of 5 to 8, and we wanted to do something to reach out to teenagers. The idea we landed on to help promote philanthropy to Canadian teens was ultimately the Top Teen Philanthropist contest. We thought it would be a wonderful way to engage and recognize teens around the notion of philanthropy”
Offman says there are many teenagers doing extraordinary things for charities and to help others, so there has to be a way to distinguish between them and narrow down the nominees to the one truly outstanding, deserving teen. Chosen by a panel of judges comprised of Offman; 2008’s winner Jane Wu; Free The Children founder Craig Keilberger; Danielle Silverstein, executive director of Jays Care Foundation; Monica Patten, president and CEO of Community Foundation of Canada; and Carlos Bustamante, host of YTV’s The Zone, they have a set of criteria.
“It’s not the person who’s raised the most money; its not the person who has volunteered the most hours; we are looking for sincerity,” Offman explains. “After we go through the applications and interview the finalists, we’re looking for a teen that we’re really convinced is doing what he or she is doing for all of the right reasons — not for the attention, not to get experience for a future job, not to build their resume for university, but because they genuinely want to give back to the community. I think we chose the winner who really exemplifies that characteristic.
“After reviewing her application, clearly she had done so much and taken an incredible amount of initiative, but it was really after speaking with Sophia and interviewing her — in conjunction with her application — that made us recognize how sincere she was about what she was doing. We were thoroughly convinced that her motives were so pure and well intended that she really stood above the crowd.”
Just under 100 entries were received for 2009’s Top Teen Philanthropist search. Gran-Ruaz gave her $5000 winnings to Toronto’s Hockey For The Homeless. “I have spoken for them in the past and we have similar causes,” she explains. “They do tournaments and things like that to raise money for the homeless. I trust them and I know they are going to use the money for something good. I mean with various organizations you really wonder when you donate, how much actually gets used for the cause and I know they are going to use everything for something good.”
For more information on Gran-Ruaz’s charity, go to http://viewitfromhome.com, then select Snug As A Bug
For info on the Top Teen Philanthropist contest, go http://www.mackenziefinancial.com/teen
* Samaritanmag.com is an online magazine covering the good deeds of individuals, charities and businesses.