The following post is from Andrew Teel, a grade 10 student at Inquiry Hub.
I was six and a half when I finally had a place to call home. I had a family, my own room, and a brand new bed. That was nine years ago, but I will never forget how bad my life was before then. When I was twelve, I started to realize that there were other kids like me who didn’t get adopted or who lived in dangerous situations. I found out that a lot of teens who are homeless had run away or aged out of foster care and I thought maybe I could do something to help. For a couple of years, I filled Christmas stockings for homeless people.
In grade nine, I started high school at Inquiry Hub Secondary School (iHub). I made video, I posted it on YouTube and asked Mr. Truss if I could to show it to the students and staff. I explained that I was collecting toonies to donate to Covenant House, who provide all kinds of support for homeless and at-risk youth. iHub is a smaller school and I didn’t really know people very well yet, so I set my goal at $100.
I brought in a Pringles chip can covered in white paper with “Twoonies for Teens” written on it. After I showed the video, I asked people to fill out a survey. One of the questions was, “Do you think that one person collecting toonies to donate can make a difference in the life of homeless and at-risk teens?” I was surprised when a lot of the students said yes; I thought they were just being nice, but then the tin started to get heavier. The students and staff were bringing in dimes and quarters, loonies and toonies, and then some five dollar bills and even a couple of twenties. I was quickly getting to my goal.
Jennifer Hall from Covenant House has been a big part of all fundraising I have done since I was in grade seven and filling stockings; I don’t know what we would do without her. When Twoonies for Teens was under way, she helped me set up my web page on the Covenant House site, so that anyone who wanted to donate could do it online.
One day the phone rang at home; my Mom answered and it was CBC radio. They had heard about Twoonies for Teens and they wanted to do a radio interview, then they called back and asked if my Mom and I would do a TV news story too. I don’t like to be in the spot light at all, and it’s really hard for me to speak in public, but I said yes because I knew it would spread awareness about the homeless and at risk youth, and that was all that really mattered.
Global TV contacted us next and we did a news story with Linda Ailsworth. Suddenly the total on my webpage exploded, and was going up by hundreds of dollars! We were all watching the total climb, my family, my friends, all the people at my Dad’s work, my Mom’s daycare families, Jennifer and all the people who work at Covenant House. It was crazy and every time we looked, the number was higher, $500, $1000, $10,000, $20,000… We could hardly believe it. Day after day, it kept growing and messages were coming in. People were donating in the name of their parent who grew up in foster care. They donated in memory of someone who died living on the streets, or for a child they lost to suicide. People wrote and thanked me for sharing my story. I was writing thank you notes as fast as I could, but even with help I could barely keep up. Things kept happening, my picture was in the newspaper, the Coquitlam firefighters’ charitable society donated $2000, and Linda Ailsworth did another news story. The phone rang constantly and the emails came in all day long. We never knew what to expect each day when we woke up. It was incredible, and still the total kept rising.
Eventually things slowed down a bit, but then in early spring of 2017, Covenant House did a mail-out with my picture and story in it, and more donations came in. When it was all over, my total on the Twoonies for Teens page was $49,541.00. People had been amazingly generous. Even now I can’t really believe it happened.
One morning, we got an email from Megan at the Vancouver Whitecaps office. She said that the Whitecaps FC had heard about Twoonies for Teens and they invited me, my family, and some friends to watch the opening game from a suite. It was right near my birthday and that was an awesome present. Megan came in to say hi along with Whitecaps President Bobby Lenarduzzi and Ambassador Carl Valentine. We got to talk with them for a while and they gave us all scarves. It was a really fun night.
Funny thing, I found out that when you do something to help someone, it makes you more aware and you start to see other people that need help too. I can’t remember how I heard about the Vancouver Street Soccer League, a league for homeless, at risk and marginalized people, but when I did I also heard they were trying to raise enough money to take their team to a tournament in Alert Bay. It was going to be the first time some of the indigenous people on the team would ever get to leave the city. So I decided to run a bake sale. My parents gave me some money to buy supplies, and I paid them back by doing some extra chores, then my Mom and I spent the whole weekend baking. My Dad took some of the baking to work and I took the rest to school, my bake sale raised $220. I went downtown to the Andy Livingstone Park to give the money to them and the whole team thanked me. The VSSL did raise enough money and they got to go to the June Sports tournament.
Megan called again and said the Whitecaps wanted me to be part of a video for the #BuckUp for Mental Health campaign, which they were going to post on their website. Russell Tibert, Bobby Lenarduzzi, and several others were going to be recording too. I was a nervous, but Russell and the crew made it easier. About a week or so later, we got an email from Megan saying that some of the Whitecaps players had decided to have a car wash and they invited me to help out. It was really fun and all the money went to the #BuckUp Campaign. Not long after that, my family and I volunteered at one of the games. All the volunteers walked around with buckets and signs and collected donations. At the end of the campaign, the Whitecaps had collected over $84,000 for Covenant House’s mental health programme.
I never knew that there were awards for helping people, so I was very surprised when I received an award from School District 43 and another from Covenant House for community service. After that I received the Yes I can Award for School and Community Activities, and in June at Inquiry Hub’s grad, award-ceremony, and year-end event iHub Annual, I received another award for Contributions to the Outside Community. Every time I was surprised and thankful.
In the summer, I was nominated by the Vancouver Whitecaps to be their Community M.V.P. My mom and I were given special passes and we got to sit in the big orange E.A. seats that are right on the field. There was a screen in front of the two chairs and a controller so we could play FIFA Soccer while we were waiting for the game to start. When the game did start, we could see the players up close and hear what they were saying. It was amazing.
It wasn’t very long after that both my Mom and I were chosen to be the Community MVPs representing the Whitecaps for the Major League Soccer All Star Game in Chicago. Once again, the Whitecaps invited us to a home game and the cameraman came to our seats and put our picture on the giant screen while the announcer explained to the crowd that we would be going to Chicago to represent the Whitecaps, and that if we got more online votes than the other twenty-one Community MVPs representing the teams in the MLS we would win $25,000 for Covenant House.
When Megan called the next time, she said that the Whitecaps wanted to send a video team to meet my Mom and me at Ranch Park School, where we first met each other. They asked me to tell my story and put the video up on the Caps website to encourage people to vote. Linda Ailsworth came too and did one more story for Global News. We made a video as well and we posted it on every kind of social media we could think of. Megan helped us organized everything and before long people were voting for us from everywhere, all over western Canada, California, even England.
Going to Chicago was amazing. I got to go to Navy Pier and eat deep dish pizza, and we did a day of service at Cradles to Crayons which provides all kinds of things to underprivileged children in Chicago. We went to the All Star game and saw Real Madrid play against the All Stars at Solider Park. It was fantastic. There were fireworks and three helicopters buzzed the stadium. That night, Solider Park had the highest attendance in its history with 61,428 people there.
A company called Wells Fargo had hosted the MVP contest and we had to wait until half time when they announced who the winner was. We were disappointed that it was the MVP from Portland Keith Palau and not us who won, but his charity Embrace Oregon supports vulnerable youth too, so that made it a lot easier. We did win a Wells Fargo Stage Coach Trophy and a $1000 consolation prize for Covenant House. We spread even more awareness, we met some great people, and we had awesome time.
The new school year brought more excitement. Reader’s Digest asked if I would be interested in doing an interview with them for their magazine. I had never heard of it before, but my parents told me it was one of the oldest magazines in North America. When I looked it up online, I found out the first issue came out 95 years ago in 1922, and that nowadays it has over 2,000,000 subscribers. I met with the journalist Vanessa and the photographer Tanya at iHub. We spent the morning talking and shooting pictures. Last week we finished the fact clarification forms for the editor and my story will be published in the December issue.
On November 13th, my Dad and I were invited to do a live interview on Breakfast Television Vancouver. I was happy to have the opportunity to spread some more awareness for homeless and at-risk youth, and it’s definitely worth getting up before 5:00 to get there. I was also invited to go to the Vancouver Canucks game by Kirk McLean.
A couple of days ago, another huge surprise came when I found out that I had been chosen by the Association of Fundraising Professionals as the recipient of the 2017 Outstanding Youth Philanthropist Award. On November 16th, my family was invited to attend a ceremony at the Philanthropy Summit at the Vancouver Convention Center with about 1000 attendees. Speaking at the event were David Suzuki and his daughter Severn Cullis-Suzuki. My family, Mr. Truss, Mrs. Vanhulsen and Mrs. Graff, Jennifer Hall and a whole table of people from Covenant House all went as well. It was very exciting and a little overwhelming.
I have some other things going on too. I asked my family to help me make a new video to go on my Covenant House page for this year. I know that it is not realistic to expect a big total again, but I think any amount will help, even if it’s just $100.
I’ve also started a new project called Hoodies for Teens. My plan is to collect new and gently-used adult-sized hoodies that can be given out through Covenant House. Then on December 16th our family is going to go down to Covenant House to help fill backpacks for the youth they support.
Just when I thought that everything was going to slow down a little bit, we got a phone call from Anne in Florida who told my Mom that I was chosen as the winner of the International Yes I Can Award. The ceremony is being held at the CEC convention in Tampa Bay Florida in February. I really can’t believe it.
It has been a busy, crazy, exciting year. My goal was to help vulnerable teens in some small way, but I didn’t expect that it would help me, too. I found out I could do things that I never thought I could and I met some pretty great people. I don’t know what this next year will look like, but I will just keep helping out where I can and see what happens.