Fighting cancer with $5 bracelets, golf and teen energy

Valerie Hauch
Staff Reporter   

Published on Wednesday December 01, 2010

The winner of this year’s Outstanding Youth in Philanthropy award can’t talk long when a reporter calls — she has $5-apiece bracelets made from recycled jewellery to sell at an event to raise money for the Philip Aziz Centre, a non-profit home-based hospice program in Toronto for people who have life-limiting illnesses.

She’s only 16, but Brooke Harrison, founder of the youth advisory council for the Philip Aziz Centre, has the sort of dazzling background that makes her a natural for the youth philanthropy award which is being given by the Association of Fundraising Professionals Greater Toronto Chapter.

The Aurora teenager is the youngest among a group of seven individuals and corporations being honoured for leadership in philanthropy at a luncheon today at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

“I can’t imagine my life without helping people,” says Harrison. The council has raised more than $79,000 through golf tournaments and Christmas fundraising drives.

“It’s fun for me. I really enjoy philanthropy and I like making time for it. I didn’t consciously get into it . . . it just happened.”

It started when Harrison was 6 years old and she learned her younger cousin had leukemia. “I didn’t really understand much about it but I knew she was sick and she needed help to get better. I didn’t know about cancer then and I wanted it to happen fast.’’

So Harrison made up some short stories — “I’m sure they weren’t that good,” she laughs — and sold them to her parents. “They were good sports about it — it was just nickels and dimes,” she says. They were sent to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Canada for childhood leukemia research regardless.

At age 8, Harrison collected recipes from friends and family members and put them into a cookbook, Cookin’ in Brooke’s Kitchen, to raise funds for leukemia research. It was reprinted three times; she put out a second edition at age 11. The total raised from both books came to about $60,000 and went to childhood leukemia research. Happily, her cousin is cancer-free today.

In 2007 Harrison got involved with the Philip Aziz Centre and started making bracelets from jewellery donated by friends and family members, and selling them at various events to raise funds for the centre’s children’s camp fund, which benefits children involved with the centre, either directly or through family members who are ill.

Harrison was shocked when she won the award. She had no idea she’d been nominated. “I’m so excited,’’ she said. “If you help somebody, the help you give is nothing compared to what you get back from it. I enjoy helping people — it’s just kind of who I am . . . but honestly, all this could not be done without the help and support of my parents (Gina and Dale).’’

vhauch@thestar.ca