A well-known East Kildonan philanthropist has established a foundation that she hopes will inspire youth in Winnipeg and help their peers around the world.
The Kenya Initiative for Development and Sustainability was founded by Cat Ross and incorporated late last month. Known as the KIDS Foundation, it is the latest labour of love for this year’s recipient of the YMCA-YWCA of Winnipeg’s Peace Medal.
Speaking to students at Transcona’s College Pierre Elliot Trudeau on April 29, Ross shared her motivation for establishing the foundation with business partner Andrea Pratt.
"I live every day of my life helping those in need," Ross said, noting she first fell in love with philanthropy in elementary school.
That was when she started helping students with special needs and grew to love sharing in the happiness she helped create. By junior high, she was already investing most of her free time in helping others.
Although she helped wherever she could, Ross still didn’t have a specific focus for her desire to help others. She didn’t find that until Grade 8, when she was given the opportunity to choose the subject for a class project. While other students chose their favourite celebrities, she chose the plight of those living with HIV infection and AIDS.
"I learned more and more about what these people were going through," Ross said, noting that what she learned impacted her deeply.
Eventually she began volunteering at Nine Circles Community Health Centre. She took three months of intense training and then spent her time with people living with HIV infection and AIDS. She helped them go about their daily lives, from driving them to appointments to just sitting with them and listening.
She was touched by the courage of those she worked with and began to wonder what living with HIV infection and AIDS must be like in less wealthy, developed countries.
"The education and healthcare resources we have are unheard of in Africa," she said.
In 2005, Ross began raising money to support her peers in Kenya. Her first benefit concert brought in $2,500 and she was able to go to Kenya to witness what life was like for those living with HIV infection and AIDS firsthand.
"I watched people die from completely preventable diseases," she said. "I saw what extreme poverty looks like."
Ross told the students poverty and health are linked. She said a small minority of the world’s population controls a vast majority of the world’s food, leaving the rest to make due with what’s left. With a frustrated laugh she added, "How is it we know statistics like this but still haven’t done anything?"
It was that frustration that led her to found KIDS International. The foundation will fund food relief, clean water projects, capital projects requested by orphanages, relief for internally displaced persons, medical care, and paying the school fees for impoverished children as well as those living with HIV infection and AIDS.
"People often say to me, ‘Cat, you can’t help everyone, everywhere, all the time’," she said.
"And I always respond: but I’ll die still trying. Every little bit counts."
Ross said she expects KIDS Foundation to be registered as a charity later this year, at which point she will be able to issue a tax receipt for donations. In the meantime, she is looking for more volunteers. For more information about KIDS Foundation, visit www.hope4kids.ca.