At age 8, Hannah Taylor was set to eradicate homelessness in Canada through her NGO.
By Julia Migné
One cold winter night, a young Canadian girl was sitting in a car watching a man scavenging for food in a garbage dumpster. Confused about what she was seeing, five year old Hannah Taylor asked her mum what the gentleman was doing. She replied that the man was down his luck and had to do that to eat.
Hannah’s mind was then filled with questions her parents couldn’t always answer. After a year of always agonisingly wondering how people could end up homeless, her mum finally told her: “You know Hannah maybe if you do something about it, your heart won’t feel so sad.” That’s all Hannah needed to start her incredible journey to help homeless people in Canada and around the world through the creation of the non-profit, The Ladybug Foundation.
Hannah shares to INKLINE about how everything came into being, the foundation’s many programs, and what her hopes are for the future.
INKLINE: How does an 8-year old start an actual NGO?
Hannah Taylor: Throughout my work, I’ve come to realise that everybody has a moment that just snaps them right in the gut so they can’t forget about it. And usually what comes from that light bulb moment is the passion that leads you to do the work that your heart needs you to do. For me, this [seeing a homeless person for the first time] was that moment and for about a year, I could not let it go.
I went to my teacher and asked her if I could talk to the class about homelessness and if we could do something to help and we ended up having our first fundraiser. I think what took it from that first fundraiser to an actual established organisation is just that I kept talking about it to other people and really quickly I realised that so many people wanted to do something but they just didn’t know where to start. Eventually, we connected with more people and kept fundraising.
It started with ladybug jars that we distributed to schools and businesses, and eventually we had raised enough that in order to distribute that amount of money we’d have to become a registered charity.
I: Why did you decide to call the foundation The Ladybug Foundation?
H: The ladybug is our mascot because first of all ladybugs bring good luck and I figured when I was little that we need good luck helping those who are homeless and homeless people often need good luck in their lives. And also, I was just a kid who would go out and catch frogs, and I loved bugs and so they were also my favourite bugs growing up.
I: You’ve been working on homelessness issues for more than a decade now, how is the situation evolving in Canada?
H: There is still a massive need! But also in Canada I’ve seen a big shift in how people talk about homelessness. I don’t hear very often a lot of the derogative comments or the anger that a lot of people had and that I had noticed at the beginning of Ladybug’s work. That’s a very hopeful thing because that type of change usually comes from more understanding, more empathy – that’s a really, really important step in fixing the problem.
Also what’s becoming a little more common are Housing First projects in the country and they are really effective. The idea is that you care for a person’s basic needs first and then you deal with the issues as to why they are living in the street, how they got to that point, after.
The first one I went to was in Alberta when I was 10 or 11. It was amazing because they’d converted this old hotel into apartments so people would be there and while they were getting back to their feet that had an address, and they had access to food. Because if you don’t have a bed to sleep in how are you going to keep a job? How are you going to end up going to an interview? You need an address to be on the pay roll!
I: What are your biggest achievements so far?
H: Since the very beginning, Ladybug Foundation’s core values, core message and core goal has never changed and the idea is to share the love that you have and care about each others always. It’s about giving from the heart and connecting as many hearts as possible.
I never thought it would be across Canada but I’m also very thankful that it is cause there is so much work to do. It is incredible to be because we are all volunteers, and people are so generous with their time and what they have. It’s just a massive collective achievement, it’s really amazing and really special and an evidence of how incredible people are.
I: How do you face the obstacles and challenges associated with your mission?
H: For me, personally, whenever work gets stressful or it feels interminable – because that’s a feeling that is pretty common across the non-profit sector working with issues where there is a lot to do and there is a lot to change – the thing that helps me feel better when that happens is one story.
I was ten and I was being given a tour of a youth shelter in Toronto that approached Ladybug Foundation for support. As I was on the tour, the young people who used the shelter for support joined in and so they were telling me stories about what dinner was the best or what art was theirs in the art room.
By the end of the tour we were a pretty big group, I was giving hugs to everybody to say goodbye and there was one girl, she must have been 16, who’d been really quiet the whole time. Just as I was about to leave, she walked from the back of the crowd and she gave me a big hug, there were tears in her eyes and she said: ‘Before today I thought nobody would help me and now I know you do!’. For me that is the whole reason we do it so the fact that that person who didn’t have hope anymore might feel that way because of our work. I’m so proud!
I: Can you tell us a little bit more about Ladybug’s education program?
H: When I was ten we finished working on makeChange, the Ladybug Foundation education program, and a group of really amazing volunteer teachers helped us put it together. It can be taught from kindergarten to grade 12 and it has a different set of curricular for every grade with original lessons, music videos and teacher guides available all across Canada and also around the world.
Essentially, it’s about first teaching young people that they can make a difference and then giving them the tools to do something with what they are passionate about. A big part of my job for the foundation has been speaking. So often I would go to these schools and I would love it! I would see kids having this light bulb moment when it’s like ‘oh if she can do it, I can do it too!’.
It’s also the place where I’ve seen the most amazing, innovative minds and the most resilient hope ever. Kids are the coolest and then teachers who take them seriously are so important. For me, that was my first grade teacher and I’ve seen it over and over again in lots of different schools where teachers take the passion of their students seriously and it’s crucial to making a difference.
Recently, it’s now been used in 11,000 classrooms in Canada, the States, Singapore, Denmark and France too. What’s exciting now is that we have recently transitioned so it’s now an online platform. Everything is online and it’s free so whoever has an internet connection can use it and it’s called icanmakechange.ca. That’s the most recent big project we’ve finished and we are really excited about it!
I: What’s coming next for you?
H: What our goal has always been! First of all to connect more hearts in caring for the homeless and in caring for each others as well. Our goal is to run out of business, we don’t want to be needed anymore and we will be out of business when every Canadian has a roof over their head and food to eat. I want my work and I want the work of Ladybug to be a reason for others to believe in better things.