December 10, 2019

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Charity founder hanging up her wings

Opinion

Winnipeg’s famed Ladybug Girl is officially hanging up her polka-dot wings.

Now 23, Hannah Taylor is winding down her iconic Ladybug Foundation, a charity she launched to raise money and awareness for Canada’s homeless when she was just eight years old.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Taylor has moved back to Winnipeg and aims to become a human-rights lawyer.</p>

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Taylor has moved back to Winnipeg and aims to become a human-rights lawyer.

Today marks the final day for the foundation, which has raised more than $4 million for emergency shelters, food banks and soup kitchens throughout the country over the past 15 years.

"After an amazing 15 years full of so many people from all over Canada, all over the world, who have been supremely generous and kind... we are winding down the foundation," Taylor told me over an iced coffee at a local Starbucks outlet on a sunny weekday morning.

"We’ve completed our mandate. It’s always been about doing work that makes changes in the lives of people experiencing homelessness and hunger by connecting hearts. It’s always been about communicating how important it is to care about each other and share what we have. That message has reached millions of people now through schools I’ve spoken to and other organizations.

"And over the last 15 years I’ve learned so much from so many people about how we can dedicate ourselves to working for others, and I’m ready to take that knowledge and understanding and use it to help in new ways."

Letter from Hannah Taylor

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>The Ladybug Foundation became known for its colourful collection jars. </p>

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

The Ladybug Foundation became known for its colourful collection jars.

Hi everyone,

It is with a full heart that I write that after 15 amazing years, filled with the generosity and kindness of so many, the Ladybug Foundation is winding down.

It is with a full heart that I write that after 15 amazing years, filled with the generosity and kindness of so many, the Ladybug Foundation is winding down.

Our goal has always been to make change in the lives of Canadians experiencing homelessness, hunger or poverty by connecting hearts. Ever since I was five years old, it’s been about communicating the importance of sharing a little of what we have and caring about each other. It has been about the simple power of hope.

Looking at the last 15 years, I am overwhelmed with gratitude by the countless moments I have seen connection, caring, sharing and hope create change across Canada and around the world.

And so I say ‘thank you’ to every person who shared their experiences of homelessness as we worked to gain knowledge and understanding. Thank you to every shelter, food bank and soup kitchen we’ve partnered with, whose work so profoundly affects the lives of Canadians living in poverty every day. Thank you to everyone who has shared their time, money, ideas and enthusiasm with the Ladybug Foundation. Thank you to our board members and full-time volunteers whose dedication and insight were invaluable. Thank you to every child who listened to our story in assemblies or in classrooms and met us with optimism, excitement and hope. Thank you to every educator who made those assemblies happen.

Thank you to my hometown, Winnipeg, for responding to our call for caring and action from the beginning with generosity and excitement. I could not have asked for a better place to start.

Thank you to my Grade 1 teacher, Mrs. Hildebrand, who took my young heart seriously.

Thank you to my family. You had a passionate kid who, thanks to you, never questioned the strength of her voice.

Thank you for every mile walked, jar painted and bit of change collected. Thank you for finding step stools, milk crates and guitar cases for me to stand on when I was still too short to reach the podium. Thank you even more for listening.

Some have said that all of this became possible because a little girl spoke up; but really this became possible because so many incredible people listened.

I will always help and I will always care for those who are homeless or hungry in Canada. There is still work to do to make sure that every Canadian has a roof over their head, enough food to eat and love and care. I am committed to continuing to work in new ways to make this change happen. That passion I found when I was five hasn’t gone anywhere.

Please continue to create hope in the lives of those around you. Share a little of what you have and care about each other always. It has the power to create profound change. I know because I’ve seen it.

With all of my heart, thank you.

Hugs and ladybugs,

Hannah

The foundation’s final donation will be a roughly $5,000 contribution to Winnipeg’s Siloam Mission.

"It feels great that it’s gone full circle with our last donation being to Siloam," Taylor said. "That will be our final contribution in the community. Siloam Mission back when they were on Main Street... they were the first (donation) when I was in Grade 1, the first shelter that I ever volunteered in."

While Taylor is formally closing her foundation, she will not be abandoning a lifelong crusade to help Canadians who are homeless, hungry or living in poverty.

Last year, she graduated from McGill University with a degree in political science, and this fall she’ll begin studying law at the University of Manitoba with the goal of becoming a human-rights lawyer.

"The idea of working in public policy or social policy is really interesting to me because I think that the law generally, but especially when it comes to policy work, is how we show people that we value them, especially marginalized people. We protect or defend what or who we value," Taylor said.

"Just like the core of Ladybug has always been doing work that creates hope in the lives of others or showing people that they matter, that’s what I’m going to do with my law degree, too. I’m going to do work that shows people that they matter, or that creates hope."

“Just like the core of Ladybug has always been doing work that creates hope in the lives of others or showing people that they matter, that’s what I’m going to do with my law degree, too. I’m going to do work that shows people that they matter, or that creates hope.” – Hannah Taylor

Most Winnipeggers already know the broad strokes of this young activist’s life. Her career as Canada’s pigtailed, anti-poverty crusader began when, at the age of five, she asked her mom, Colleen, why there was a man eating out of a garbage dumpster in a Winnipeg back lane on a bitter December night.

"I’ve always lived an incredibly fortunate life," Taylor said. "I’ve never had to worry about having a bed to sleep in or enough food to eat. When I was five, I thought everyone was as lucky as I was. When I saw this gentleman searching for food, I turned to my mom and said ‘What’s he doing?’ And she said he was down on his luck and had to do that to eat. I just could not let it go. I think everybody has a moment like that in their life — a striking realization that hits them in the heart or the gut and they just can’t forget about it."

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>Taylor making change in 2007.</p>

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Taylor making change in 2007.

For about a year, she asked her parents hard questions about homelessness, until one night, her mom tucked her into bed and said: "Hannah, maybe if you do something about it, your heart won’t feel so sad."

The very next day, she approached her Grade 1 teacher, Mrs. Hildebrand, and broached the notion of helping the homeless.

"She could have very easily patted me on the head, but instead she looked me in the eye and said, ‘That’s one of the best ideas I’ve heard in a while, let’s have a lunch meeting and talk about it.’ She took my young, passionate self very seriously. It was an amazing thing she did for me."

In short order, the youngster was making national headlines with her signature fundraiser — little jars painted to look like ladybugs, with a slit in the top for donations. At the age of eight, she founded the Ladybug Foundation.

"I was a kid who loved catching frogs and bugs in butterfly nets, and ladybugs were my favourite bugs, and also because they’re good luck," Taylor said about how she came up with the name.

Before becoming a teenager, she was already one of the most well-known Winnipeggers in the world. When she was 10, the foundation launched Make Change, an educational program that has reached more than 11,000 classrooms around the world.

SEAN KILPATRICK / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES</p><p>Gov. Gen. David Johnston presents the Diamond Jubilee Medal to Hannah Taylor in 2012.</p>

SEAN KILPATRICK / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

Gov. Gen. David Johnston presents the Diamond Jubilee Medal to Hannah Taylor in 2012.

She’s dined with prime ministers, given more than 400 speeches to children and diplomats around the world, written a bestselling children’s book and starred in a National Film Board documentary about her life helping the most vulnerable.

There are too many awards to list here, including being the youngest Canadian to receive the Governor General of Canada’s Meritorious Service Cross (civil division) for people who perform exceptional deeds.

Was there a single moment that stood out in the past 15 years? Taylor pondered the question and recalled an emotional tour of a youth shelter in Toronto when she was 10.

"Throughout the tour there was this girl who had been very quiet," she told me. "She came through the crowd and she hugged me and was crying. She said: ‘Before today, I thought nobody loved me, and now I know you do.’ That’s why you do this work. It’s about creating hope and showing people they matter. That’s the big moment of accomplishment for me."

doug.speirs@freepress.mb.ca

Doug Speirs

Doug Speirs
Columnist

Doug has held almost every job at the newspaper — reporter, city editor, night editor, tour guide, hand model — and his colleagues are confident he’ll eventually find something he is good at.

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