The youngest citizens of Windsor and Essex County are making a big impact for charities

Laurie Makulski Harrison
By Laurie Makulski Harrison April 18, 2018 18:20

Maya Mikheal raises tens of thousands of dollars for local charities through her lemonade stands. Photo by: Laurie Harrison, March 17, 2017.

By: Laurie Harrison

Kids in Windsor and Essex County have been causing a stir and the community is taking notice.

But they’re not causing trouble – far from it.

Some as young as seven years old are walking into organizations with thousands of dollars, bags and bags of socks, cases of food and care packages for winter.

Members of Parliament are giving these young philanthropists awards.

The people who receive the donations get tears in their eyes.

And the charities are blown away.


Maya Mikheal has become a fundraising machine


Half a decade ago, a seven-year-old girl, at an age when most have tea with teddy bears, believe in unicorns and dream of happily-ever-afters – saw a reality that many adults turn their heads from and it changed her life forever.

Maya Mikheal knew about “helping the poor.” Her family had sponsored poor families at Christmas every year for as long as she could remember.

At seven-years-old though, she never fully understood what being poor could really look like until her innocent eyes fell upon the sight of a desperate man.

He was looking through the smelly garbage of old, discarded leftovers and pop-soaked french fries, diminished to the likes of a stray animal. He was scavenging for anything that would ease his hunger pains, in a dumpster of a U.S. McDonald’s parking lot.

“When I saw the man it was a huge like, kaboom in my head. It was like … these people actually exist,” said Maya as she recalled her first real glimpse of homelessness.


“Somebody looking in the garbage, it was devastating, it really was.” — Maya Mikheal, 13.


Maya asked her dad to buy him a hamburger. Wanting to support his daughter’s wishes of humanitarianism, her dad agreed.

For many, purchasing a hamburger for a hungry man might give them the sense that they did their good deed for the day and go about their lives. Occasionally, they might help someone else down the road. But at that moment, for Maya, this was the beginning of wanting to do more and making it her committed mission to do more.

“Sitting down eating my happy meal, I found that there were apples, and I thought ‘I have apples at home, I always eat apples, but how about this poor man? He doesn’t get these kind of healthy fruits,’” said Maya.

“So I gave him a couple of my apples that came with my happy meal and he was so happy that someone really cared for him for once, it just lit me up.”

“Then I started to feel even more bad because we don’t live there, so it’s not like we can give him a meal every day.”

While driving back to Canada, Maya and her parents discussed what she had seen. Realizing that this situation was not isolated, she was heartbroken it happens in Windsor as well.

Maya decided then that she would do something to help.

“The Mission and the Salvation Army feed thousands of people every day. The Windsor Youth Centre takes in youth – Imagine kids on the streets, imagine it, it’s heartbreaking!”

Over the past five years, Maya and her group of friends have embarked on a mission determined to change the world, one glass of lemonade at a time.

With the never wavering support of her parents and corporate sponsors like The Canadian Superstore, McDonalds, Silverstein’s and Vista Print backing her, Maya’s Friends has grown to be a group of young philanthropist taking the initiative to be the change they see the world needing.

Maya recalls standing in her kitchen the first year with 20 friends around tables and how  much work it was to hand-squeeze so many donated lemons, “It was a lot of work but it’s worth it.”

“I am just so thankful to all these people who want to make sure that we can make a difference in the community,” said Maya.

Over the years, her lemonade stand has raised tens of thousands of dollars and collected thousands of can goods, supporting The Downtown Mission, The Salvation Army and The Windsor Youth Centre.

“We actually made it happen and it was just such a good feeling! Like I can help these people finally … kids have a say in the city of Windsor, we can make the difference,” said Maya.

“I want every kid to realize that we can make a difference for the future, because we are the future.”

Maya is best known for the annual lemonade stand her group holds every year, but she has also coordinated and participated in numerous initiatives such as charity walks and gestures of kindness to bring awareness, funds and companionship to more of Windsor’s most vulnerable – the sick, the elderly and the poor.

“The reactions from the organizations are amazing. I don’t think they count on us every year,” said Maya.

Kids continue to join Maya’s Friends every year, while others have gone off to do their own thing helping causes in Essex County like W.E. Care for Kids.

“Of course, our whole team goes to support, because even if it’s not for my group, I would be happy to help or support any way,” said Maya. “It’s an inspiration that they learned from my group and they’ve gone to do their own things. It just makes me really happy.”


Organizations harness the power of youth philanthropy


Children taking part in the inaugural Lemonade Brigade campaign for W.E. Care for Kids, July 15, 2017. Photo by: Laurie Harrison

Ashley Weeres, operations manager for W.E. Care for Kids, a campaign used to support pediatric care programs in our community, has noticed the valuable contributions that youth make. it even led to their recent fundraising campaign, The Lemonade Brigade.

Mostly funded by corporate donors and sponsors, the organization started implementing the children-run lemonade fundraisers last year.

W.E. Care for Kids put a call out to local children to run a lemonade stand.

They supplied everything but the customers to the kids to help them succeed. Their inaugural Lemonade Brigade initiative found enthusiastic roadside lemonade stands all over Essex County.

“It’s such a powerful image,” said Weeres. “When you see little kids out there either setting up lemonade stands or hot chocolate stands.”


“It’s a good fit, kids helping kids, I don’t know if it is just because they are so cute that people are so willing to help them.” — Ashley Weeres, operations manager for W.E. Care for Kids


The community supported these kids and car after car, stopped for glasses of lemonade, handing over whatever change they had on them, some handing over large bills for one glass of lemonade.

Weeres was surprised when one after another, children were bringing in large checks, some exceeding $1,000, just from selling lemonade.

At the end of the campaign, these children who want to help others had raised $20,000.


Charity starts with the parents


According to Maya, the biggest obstacles children face when deciding to fund raise and help a charity is lack of commitment and lack of support from adults, especially parents.

“If they are not supported and encouraged by the adults in their lives, they will not succeed,” said Maya.

Liz Bacon, a recent recipient of the Mayors Award for Fundraising has been organizing fundraisers for years. Her popular Superhero Takeover raises 10s of thousands of dollars every year at its sold-out events for Cystic Fibrosis.

Bacon was more than happy to introduce her son to philanthropy when he showed interest at the age of five.

Her son, Joey Nehme, has been on the planning committee for the Superhero Takeover for four years now, gaining experience and learning what it takes to put on a fundraiser.


“I do this because my mom started, and I asked her if I could be a part of it.” – Joey, 9.


Joey Nehme and his sister Emmah present a check to Cystic Fibrosis Canada March 25, 2018. Photo courtesy: Liz Bacon

“We are helping them (Cystic Fibrosis Windsor-Essex) so we can collect money, so we can give it to the charity, its super fun.”

Joey, now nine years old, also volunteers at the Windsor Corporate Challenge  his aunt coordinates and after a recent diagnosis of epilepsy,  has added a second fundraising committee to his resume.

Bowling shoes on his feet, Joey picks up his ball, walks up to the line and releases, waiting to see if all the pins fall at the annual Strike out Epilepsy event.

Among the bowlers are familiar faces from previous events Joey has helped organize. They gather to find support from each other.

Many of these bowlers know who Joey is and have heard him tell his story in public before.

“A lot of people have been helping people who have epilepsy. We help spread awareness and raise money,” said Joey.

“At the (Seize the Day) walk, I did a speech to talk about epilepsy. I was telling them about my epilepsy and when I started to have epilepsy.”

“After when the fundraisers are done, we present a check. We raise money for two organizations now, epilepsy and cystic fibrosis.”

joey is an active participant at the committee meetings, even suggesting new event themes.

“We talk about if they are going to do another one. I listen to everything and everyone says … you’re sitting in the boss’s seat – because I’m sitting right at the end. I feel like a boss, it makes me feel good.”

Fundraising is a lot of work, but Joey says anyone can do it.

“We did the Corporate Challenge for a couple years. Last year we filled up the water guns and squirted everybody. That was our job. It was super fun,” said joey, remembering a highlight of the event he had volunteered at with his cousin.

“I got to say that they (kids) are going to want to (help charities) because what if they have one of those (conditions), they are going to have to help raise awareness. And it’s fun.”


Hundreds of youth philanthropists making a difference


Windsor’s youth have found many opportunities to start their journey in philanthropy: Initiating and supporting school fundraisers; holding themed birthday parties that collect donation in lieu of gifts; designing and selling shirts {Andrew Banar from Group Hug Apparel); holding sock drives for the homeless ( Sarah Lewis, the Sock Girl); baking and making jewellery (Gabby Wilkinson) and selling lemonade (Maya Mikheal) just to name a few of the efforts.

W.E. Care for Kids Lemonade Brigade roadside lemonade stand, July 15, 2017. Photo by: Laurie Harrison

One local organization has formed to assist parents who would like to introduce their children to philanthropy. 100 Kids who Care, is a group of local children who pay $40 annually of their own earned money and meet four times a year.

Every child pitches their favorite local charity they would like to see the money go to and make compelling speeches as to why their organization should win.

The kids vote, and one charity wins at the end of the year.

This teaches children to give generously of their own money and become passionate about a cause.

According to the organizations who have benefited from young philanthropists, children are the future of the community. By supporting their efforts now, they will grow up to become compassionate adults who are committed to making a better community.

“It’s very important for the children in our community to get involved,’ said Christine Wilson-Furlonger, from Street Help Homeless Centre of Windsor.

“Once they start understanding philanthropy at such a young age, it’s going to carry with them for the rest of their lives.”

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