Loretto Abbey students, from left, Giuliana Simonetta, Elizabeth Eunsoo Lee, Dorina Aghassi and Kaelyn Papoushek, with the $5,000 Youth and Philanthropy Initiative cheque they are donating to St. Felix Centre. Photo courtesy Diane Vatour

Initiative puts students’ faith in action

  • June 15, 2024

A group of students from Toronto's Loretto Abbey Catholic Secondary School was crowned winners of the Youth and Philanthropy Initiative, with their $5,000 award donated to St. Felix Centre in downtown Toronto.

Tenth-graders Elizabeth Eunsoo Lee, Kaelyn Papoushek, Dorina Aghassi and Giuliana Simonetta were honoured for showing their deep understanding of the Catholic faith in action by the Youth and Philanthropy Initiative (YPI).

For over two decades, YPI has sought to strengthen support for local social issues by empowering young people. Diane Vautour, head of Canadian World Studies and Social Sciences, was behind its resurgence at the all-girls school. 

“I had been doing (YPI) at several schools since the beginning of its inception and when I came to this school I wanted to bring the program here as well. It has an interesting back story that has always intrigued me in the sense that it was the family who owned MAC Cosmetics who used the profits of the sale of their business to start this program for youth,” she said. 

Vautour, who was teaching the school’s civics class, felt reintroducing the program would be a good fit due to the preexisting curriculum requiring students to complete a civic action. 

It was the familiarity and manageability of YPI’s reintegration coupled with one discernable element identified by the teacher that proved to cement the program as equally unique and important for her students.

“Where Loretto Abbey is located is a charity desert,” Vautour said, unlike other areas of the city where "there is a charity on almost every corner.” Not so in the leafy area of North York where the Abbey is located. 

With that in mind, students began looking at social issues throughout Toronto as a whole with the help of the Toronto Foundation’s "vital signs" report, giving them a snapshot of issues such as social isolation, loneliness, mental health and affordability. From there, teams were formed, local charities identified and students began thinking about whether their lives had intersected with their chosen social issue — something that was the case for this semester’s winning team. 

“St. Felix Centre being a Catholic-based charity that focuses on not only homelessness but women’s issues as well was one of the main reasons we decided to pursue them as our chosen organization,” said Eunsoo Lee. “We also wanted to choose a charity that was small to middle-sized so that our $5,000 could actually mean something significant to them.” 

Started in the late 1930s by the Felician Sisters, St. Felix Centre continues to be a hub for marginalized individuals in Toronto dealing with homelessness, poverty and food insecurity. Programs such as  24-hour respite arrangements and transitional housing for women will directly benefit from the students' donation.

After research, interviews, volunteering and discussion, each group created engaging and persuasive presentations on local charities. Six finalists delivered their group presentations at Loretto Abbey May 30, with last year's winners acting as judges. 

Vautour hopes her students continue to expand their minds into what it means to be young Catholic philanthropists in their daily lives. 

“Our discussion of what philanthropy is revolves around giving back without expecting anything in return and so it is always good to see students do things that are not for marks. Yes, when they do it in the course they are evaluated, but when they become finalists they are doing this out of the goodness of straight philanthropy,” she said. “Our only goal is to improve the city and the lives of everybody in it and to teach our students to look at everybody as someone deserving of human dignity.” 

Vautour's sentiment is already being shared by the winning team who hope to make more substantial impacts in their community.

“You obviously hear a lot about homelessness and other social issues, but by doing more research the numbers start to really add up and that truly impacted and shocked me,” Simonetta said. 

“This is an issue that we all care deeply about and for us to do all this work on it and to learn more about it and to know that this $5,000 is going towards that is so rewarding for all of us,” Papoushek added.

“This was a truly great initiative for all of us to learn more about philanthropy as a whole, what it means and how we can apply it in the real world not just for this program, but after high school as well,” Eunsoo Lee concluded. 

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