Most people who meet Hannah Taylor would agree, she’s an incredibly nice person. So nice, if fact, she was among 10 finalists for Canada’s Nicest Person competition, sponsored by Roots earlier this year.
But more than just a warm smile and a kind word, the 21-year-old Poli Sci senior is an example of what nice looks when applied with diligence, passion and unyielding dedication. So much so that on Sept. 23, Taylor will receive a Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Award in Louisville, Kentucky for her work with Canada’s homeless people.
“To be mentioned in the same sentence as Muhammad Ali is such an honor,” says Taylor in a phone interview on her lunch break at her summer internship. “His life and his legacy are examples of such dedication to others. He has shown us all the power of creating hope.”
Taylor, along with five other recipients from around the world, aged 30 or younger, will be honored for their humanitarian work. Each of them will receive an award that mirrors one of Ali’s Six Core Principles – Confidence, Conviction, Dedication, Giving, Respect and Spirituality – which aligns with their respective fields of work.
Taylor has helped raise more than $4 million dollars for Canada’s homeless people, beginning when she was in Grade One armed with nothing more than an empty box and a burning desire to help a man she saw eating from a dumpster one frigid Winnipeg night.
Enlisting the help of her fellow students, Taylor filled that box with clothes, food and coffee for a local shelter. Buoyed by that success, she kept at it, raising both money for and awareness for a cause that was close to her heart.
Still in elementary school, Taylor began canvasing business leaders and politicians, and flying around the country for speaking engagements while collecting money in jars decorated with ladybugs – her good luck charms. “When I was little I was totally fearless. I had no doubt in my mind that the Prime Minister would want to talk to me on the phone when I was in Grade One,” she says.
In 2004, she launched The Ladybug Foundation, a non-profit, charitable foundation that supports other charities across Canada in providing food, shelter and support for the homeless. She was eight.
To date, Ladybug has raised over $4 million. “The money goes to 65 different shelters, missions and food banks all across the country,” says Taylor.
The funds also support another of Taylor’s initiatives, the makeChange program. This online multimedia classroom resource is designed to empower and encourage youth from Kindergarten right through high school to help change the world by finding a cause they are passionate about and making a positive impact. To date, the online resource has been used in more than 11,000 classrooms around the world, including Canada, the U.S., France and Singapore.
But how does a person find that cause? Taylor believes it can come at any time and in many forms. “I was lucky enough to find my passion when I was just five and I saw that gentleman eating from a dumpster,” she says. “But sometimes you have to search for it. Talk to people you know who help others, or join a club or a society that tackles causes that interest you. Sometimes you have to push yourself out of your comfort zone.
“Somebody has to do this, somebody has to make a difference in people’s lives. Somebody needs to be a leader,” she continues. “So many Canadians need a place to sleep and food to eat and to feel love and cared for. Do it out of necessity.”
Taylor knows firsthand how the profound the positive impact this kind of work can have on someone’s life. She remembers being given a tour of a Toronto youth shelter a number of years ago. As the tour progressed, more and more of the shelter’s residents came along, talking to Taylor and showing her around.
When it came time to leave, Taylor was saying her goodbyes when “a young girl who had previously said nothing, came up with tears in her eyes and hugged me. She said ‘before today I thought nobody love me. And now I know you do,’” says Taylor. “That hope comes from understanding that you matter to somebody. And anybody – either individually or as a team – can instil that hope by being kind, sharing a little of their time and caring about others.”
For Taylor, who will apply to law school – with an emphasis on human rights law – when she graduates this spring, being compassionate is not a choice, it is a responsibility.
“Ever since I was little, I’ve loved this quote by Ali,” says Taylor. “‘Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.’ It’s profoundly true because it speaks about the responsibility we have to care for each other. It is part of being connected to the world.”
Learn more about The Ladybug Foundation.