Kids learn power and pleasure of giving

TheStar.com – Opinion
Published On Tue May 18 2010.   By Carol Goar, Editorial Board

By the time she was 30, Julie Toskan-Casale was a multi-millionaire, a co-owner of a spectacularly successful Canadian business, a proud mother of three sons and a role model for a generation of chic, socially engaged women.

Two years later, she had to figure out what to do with the rest of her life.

She and her two partners — her brother Frank and her husband Victor — decided in 1998 to sell MAC Cosmetics, the company they had built, to global giant Estée Lauder of New York. “It needed to expand rapidly into international markets,” Toskan-Casale explained. “We couldn’t do that.”

For the first time in her life, she had the luxury of planning her future. It scared her.

She had one imperative. She wanted to give back. She’d seen the difference philanthropy could make at MAC. The company had raised $160 million for AIDS at a time when the disease was too controversial for most charities to touch. And it was her brainchild. Using MAC’s popularity to change public attitudes — and raise funds for local AIDS organizations — she designed a new line of lipstick and promised customers every cent it made would be donated to the fight against AIDS. It quickly became a bestseller.

But as a private citizen, Toskan-Casale didn’t know where to start. Every cause she considered pulled at her heartstrings.

So she signed up for a four-week philanthropy workshop at the Rockefeller Foundation, which took her to New York, San Francisco and Buenos Aires. She came back eager to create a hands-on charity with a mission that mattered to her: getting kids as excited about giving as she was.

The Youth and Philanthropy Initiative (YPI) is now it in sixth year. It has touched the lives of 35,000 teenagers.

Here is how it works. The Toskan Casale Foundation offers to provide a school with a $5,000 grant, to be awarded by a Grade 9 or 10 class to the charity of its choice. But the students have to earn the money.

They have to learn about the charity, meet the people who run it and talk to its clients. Then the class has to make a presentation, explaining why it deserves the grant. Meanwhile, other classes are doing the same thing.

The presentations are judged by a panel of students, parents, public officials and community activists. The winning class gets to present the cheque to the charity it championed.

“It’s the $5,000 grant that draws them in,” Toskan-Casale said. “But by the end, they’ve become advocates. In many cases, the school’s parent council gives money to the non-winners or the kids raise funds themselves.”

She started with one Toronto school, Royal St. George’s College (whose headmaster helped her write the curriculum). YPI has now spread to 275 schools; 72 in the Greater Toronto Area, 61 in the rest of Ontario, 39 in British Columbia, 11 in Quebec and five in Alberta, plus 86 in the United Kingdom and one (with 10 more to come this fall) in the United States.

Even Toskan-Casale has been surprised by some of the benefits:

  • The program acts as a social leveller. Low-income students — new immigrants, kids who have escaped domestic abuse, youngsters living on welfare — see it as a way to rally support for an organization that helped them.
  • It opens the eyes of better-off teens to the hardship in their community.
  • It brings high-school civics — which many students find boring — to life. And it makes volunteering easy.

So far, the foundation has given away $4 million.

For Toskan-Casale, this is as big a success story as MAC — and one she’ll never have to give up.

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