GivingTuesday Spark lets youth lead outreach
‘The goal is to give power over to young people to make changes in their own unique way’
Chat with sisters Alisha and Kenisha Arora of Mississauga for five minutes, and you’ll wonder how the teens found time to talk at all. Amid an expansive list of community outreach initiatives overseen by the young students, the pair are currently busy planning a large-scale holiday parade while packing dozens of their signature HopeBags for deserving children, all in time for GivingTuesday.
“We began our Hope Sisters project when COVID started taking shape,” says Kenisha Arora.
“At the time, Alisha and I were volunteering at Credit Valley Hospital and when the pandemic hit we had to say goodbye to some of their favourite senior patients.”
The 19-year-old explains she and her sister, wanting desperately to restore hope in the hearts of residents who were facing a time of isolation and fear, picked up their pens and began to write.
“We came together in our basement one night and handwrote over 1,000 cards,” says 15-year-old Alisha Arora, adding the sisters filled them with uplifting messages in a variety of languages.
“With the help of Google translate, we wrote the messages in languages like Mandarin and Polish, then gave them out to our local senior homes. That’s where it all started.”
Fast-forward to today and the Hope Sisters, whose work in the Mississauga community has inspired Hope chapters across Ontario, are two of many young changemakers across the globe whose work is being championed by global youth-led generosity movement GivingTuesday Spark.
“The goal of GivingTuesday Spark is to give power over to young people to make changes in their own unique way,” says Dante Plush, director of youth engagement and outreach for GivingTuesday. “So we essentially say, ‘Take our logo, take our likeness and go out and do what you want with it. You make whatever change you want to see in the world.’ ”
Plush explains the initiative’s unique mode of operation was developed as an antithesis to many similar movements of today, which put the onus on youth to fundraise for an organization without allowing them the ability to get actively involved.
“Through GivingTuesday Spark, we want young people to be the experts and let us know: ‘This is what is important to us, this is what we want to do, this is how we’re going to harness what is prevalent in our age group and this is how we’re going to use it for good.’ ”
Running his finger along the lengthy spreadsheet on his screen, where Plush proudly keeps track of all the youth-led initiatives around the globe that have leveraged the GivingTuesday brand to gain traction, he stops to shout out several standout projects.
One is an outerwear drive led by a 13-year-old in Arizona who is hoping to collect one piece of clothing from all 50 states, and another is a young woman from Texas who has created an app that’s fighting colourism in an age when many young people are expressing self-consciousness about appearing “too dark on camera.”
“Another important facet of GivingTuesday Spark is we want to encourage and empower young people to engage in non-monetary giving,” says Plush.
“I grew up without money and I feel strongly that that should not equate to ‘You cannot make change,’ ” Plush adds.
“You’re going to do something great and, when people around you begin to see it, they’re going to want to step in and help,” he adds. “An easy first step to gathering that support is to simply use the GivingTuesday hashtag — with that one action, you’ve got a global community of eyes on your idea.”
Another way GivingTuesday Spark has committed to helping young change-makers is by facilitating collaboration and conversation between young leaders across the world, Plush adds.
Toronto’s Kenny Conners, 14, is one local Spark leader who has been able to share, to mentor, and be mentored by youth in other countries who share his same passion for giving.
We came together in our basement one night and handwrote over 1,000 cards.
15-YEAR-OLD ALISHA ARORA
“I want to make sure that, every year for as long as I can, I can be involved in giving back to the community,” says Conners, whose first year as a Spark Leader saw him turning his grandmother’s unused African fabrics into colourful bow ties, which he sold to buy toys for a local community centre.
Acknowledging that young people such as himself might get easily overwhelmed when figuring out how to give back, Conners advises the simple act of spreading the word about interesting local initiatives can be an easy, cost-free and effective way to begin.
“Often when I see other people posting about giving back or wanting to do good in the community, I will reach out and direct message them and give some advice on how they could help out,” says Kenny.
“That’s all part of the GivingTuesday Spark mission, to spread joy and kindness to other people so they might go ahead and do the same.”