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United for the Future

16 May 2019

The Stand for Tomorrow program aims to raise awareness of social issues and to encourage those who are working to solve them. To support TOMS in its campaign, Simons chose three inspiring Canadian organizations. Thanks to their visions, these changemakers inspire positive change in our country.

Together, Simons and TOMS will equally contribute to donating a total of $5,000 to each of these causes.

STAND FOR ACCEPTANCE

Born to Rise
Founded by Aiesha Robinson

Diagnosed with vitiligo at 18, Aiesha has experienced times of hardship and loneliness. She founded Born to Rise with a desire to speak out and empower others as well as herself. Today, the organization connects hundreds of people through social media and hosts an annual event where real people share their stories.

How did Born to Rise come to life?

It stems from myself living with vitiligo. Feeling alone, not feeling accepted, and constantly being judged made me want to speak out. I wanted to let others know that no, it's not okay to judge, it's not okay to feel alone, it's not okay to make others feel uncomfortable. I thought that if I was feeling this way, it meant that others felt this way, too.
Born to Rise started by just giving a platform for others to have their voices heard in the hopes that it would not only inspire our audience to be more considerate, but that it would also let others know that they are not alone in whatever adversity they are going through. There is someone that can relate to them. So, keep rising, because if we can overcome adversity, so can you.

What impact do you hope to have on people with this event?

I hope that people leave the event feeling hopeful because of the stories that they have heard. I want our speakers to realize the impact they have when sharing their story. I want them to know that their struggles were for a greater purpose. 

What have you personally gained from sharing your story?

I have gained a new sense of purpose and fulfillment. Since sharing my story, I've been able to inspire and change the lives of others for the better. It's the best gift I can ask for.

How did you start modelling?

Dermablend had sent a mass email to all agencies looking for a model with vitiligo. An agency messaged me on Facebook asking if I was interested. I agreed, and when I went to the agency, they asked me to sign with them. I had nothing to lose, so I accepted, fell in love with it, and the rest is history!

Has this been a way for you to embrace vitiligo?

It's given me another platform to show people that despite what you look like, you can achieve your dreams and goals if you believe. I also think it's helped develop my confidence more quickly by finally hearing other people tell me I'm beautiful. I heard it so much, I started to believe it.

 

 

STAND FOR KIDS

Mealshare
Founded by Jeremy Bryant and Andrew Hall

Jeremy Bryant and Andrew Hall founded this non-profit organization with one goal in mind: to end youth hunger. Today, Mealshare is partnered with over 350 restaurants and has donated over 2.7 million meals. How? When a selected menu item is ordered at a partnering restaurant, the restaurant will donate $1 to Mealshare. With these donations, the Mealshare team provides healthy meals to children across the globe.

How did Mealshare come to life?

Mealshare started as an idea to open a restaurant that would be half a typical restaurant, and half a community space where folks in need could come in and get a warm meal. We thought we could use the profits from every meal sold in the restaurant to provide one meal to someone in need. As young people and conscious consumers, we thought this would resonate well with the public and make deciding where to go for dinner a no-brainer.

But, we realized we were NOT the guys to run a restaurant. Trust us, you wouldn't want to eat anything we can make in the kitchen! The concept stuck with us though—we remained passionate about a buy-one-give-one program for the restaurant industry.

Why is this cause so dear to you?

We've both been incredibly fortunate to grow up with loving parents and supportive family and friends. We've gotten to travel quite a bit and realize that there are millions of youth without the opportunities that we had growing up. There are kids around the world as well as right here in Canada who wake up with no food in their bellies, no groceries in the cupboard, and no idea where their next meal will come from. Knowing that drives us to work harder to ensure that we're part of the solution.

More recently, we got to visit one of the projects we support in Ethiopia, where kids who are suffering from severe acute malnutrition receive emergency nutrition support. We met a few of the children who had received support. We got to see them laughing and playing now that they were recovered. Experiences like this really hit home and prove why youth hunger is an issue we all need to care about!

You are co-founders, but also great friends. What is it like to work together?

For our entire lives, we've been best friends and inseparable. We always dreamed of working together (although, when we were kids, we envisioned that would be running an underground Skittles emporium). We have fun working together every single day, and we think that's a big part of Mealshare's success. In a fun work atmosphere, teams are more creative and come to work happier and more excited. Working with your best friends makes the successes in a business far more enjoyable, and the tough days way easier to get through.

What has been your biggest challenge so far?

Getting traction in the early days for a brand-new concept that no restaurant had ever heard of was certainly tough. We affectionately refer to the first 6 months of Mealshare's life as “the Dark Ages” and there were weeks where we were not sure if it would survive.

More recently, continuing to dream big is always something that challenges us. It was easy to dream of going from 0 to 100 restaurants, and then from 100 to 500 restaurants. But, as we get processes and plans established, it's a constant battle to remind ourselves and our team that there is still exponential growth to come. We want Mealshare to be in every North American restaurant in order to help end youth hunger!

 

STAND FOR OPPORTUNITY

Child Welfare Political Action Committee
Founded by Jane Kovarikova

From age 6 to 16, Jane grew up in the Canadian foster care system. This experience has made her the perseverant, resilient woman she is today. However, it has also allowed her to recognize the system's flaws. In the hopes of improving legislation and providing youth with better support and opportunity, she founded the Child Welfare Political Action Committee.

Can you tell us a little bit about your foster care experience?

Overall, I am grateful that we have a system that seeks to protect vulnerable children in our society. My foster care upbringing provided many lessons that allowed me to become who I am today. On the other hand, foster care can also be tough on children. Often times, it is lonely, confusing, and stressful. The instability experienced in all areas of your life takes its toll. Despite the best efforts of foster parents at times, it is hard to feel as though you belong to the family. Then, in your late teens, you are left entirely on your own with little money or support.

How has it shaped you?

Foster care makes and breaks you. Without hardship, there cannot be resilience. That is why I am grateful for my early childhood experiences. That said, too much hardship can also cause harm that takes a long time to repair. This is why it is so important to get the foster care experience right.

How did the Child Welfare PAC come to life?

Decades of research shows that youth raised by the child protection system struggle after care. Tired policy solutions seek to “fix the youth” by providing them endless information about the worst-case scenario and how to survive. Preparing a child for survival is not a substitute for preparing a child for success after care. Current policies are not having the desired impact because it is not the children who are broken; it is the system.

That is why I founded the Child Welfare Political Action Committee in 2017. It is a federally incorporated non-profit that advocates for a progressive child welfare system. The key to breaking the cycle is evidence-based policy making aimed at improving outcomes for youth. Our group of former youth-in-care and allies seek to make results-focused legislative reform by providing real-life expertise, quality research, and effective advocacy so that all youth can realise their success.

What has been your biggest challenge so far?

Change is hard. Changing a system at the legislative level can take years. But success is possible. As a political staffer for opposition MPP Rod Jackson, our office created legislation to address the service gap for vulnerable 16 and 17-year-old children who needed help for the first time. Many people were quick to express doubts because this had been a long-standing problem for decades.

The legislation was first introduced in 2013 and died on the table twice before the previous Ontario government included it in a broader government bill. Five years later, the new law continues to reduce youth homelessness province-wide. The key is understanding that true rewards lie at the end of long-time horizons. Quick “fixes” or fads rarely make lasting change.

Having a strong team with perseverance and grit also goes a long way. Those with lived experience in the foster system have an abundance of these traits.
 

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