By Blair J. Ryan
Empathy is innate; you’re born with it. And though you start using it the minute you come out the womb, empathy is conspicuous in its difficulty to be easily understood. Synonymous with compassion, empathy is loosely defined as the ability to understand and enter into another’s feelings – it’s the thing that makes you cringe when you see a spider crawling up someone else’s arm. For some, however, connecting with their empathy later in life comes very easily. Below you’ll find the first chapter of what I predict to be a long, yet-unwritten book about the philanthropic adventures of one of Halifax’s finest young leaders of social change.
This is The Empathy Report:
Rita-Clare LeBlanc has many of the same needs and desires as other 17 year old girls. She’s admitted to having asked Dear Santa for Lululemon, make-up, Apple accessories, and of course chocolate (not entirely unlike her cohorts), but it was one Christmas gift – less than two years ago – that has defined her early philanthropic endeavors. A gift of $77.12 from her Aunt and Uncle set her on her way.
The gift came with a caveat; Rita-Clare was instructed to take the sum of money, grow it, and do ‘something with it to help others.’ It was direction she took very seriously.
Throughout her life, Rita-Clare has been surrounded by generous and conscientious folks. She cites her mother, Faye, as her greatest inspiration. “I might not tell her enough, but I know how fortunate I was to have her stay home with us throughout Elementary. My sister and I saw a woman with as big a heart as you can imagine. Rarely a day went by when she wasn’t volunteering somewhere,” Rita-Clare said of her introduction to philanthropy.
As proof that the lessons we impart on our children sometimes stick, Rita-Clare took the $77.12, four close friends, and unabashed optimism and started a youth group that she calls MYST (Maritime Youth Standing Together). Their not-so-modest goal in the beginning was to raise enough money to build a school in Mali, Africa.
Lofty? Yup, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.
A mere 18 months have elapsed, and MYST has already surpassed their original goal, having raised over $16,000 (which is enough for a school, a music program, a backpack program, and a well). Though it’s been a balancing act, being a grade 11 student , working a part-time job, and trying to save the world with fellow ‘MYSTies’, Rita-Clare still has all of her hair and slew of awards. She was presented with the Lieutenant Governor’s Award this year (at Halifax West) she’s also won a Citizenship Award (Fairview Junior High), but her greatest decoration to-date is having been named one of Youth in Motion’s Top 20 Under Twenty. Sixteen years old at the time, Rita-Clare was the second youngest, and the only Atlantic Canadian to win the prestigious award in 2011.
Because of gentle nudges from her family, $77.12, and a heart filled with empathy, Rita-Clare LeBlanc has set in motion a life-long journey of benevolence and giving. When I asked her if she ever takes time for herself, she replied very seriously, “why yes, I exercise all the time…” after a pause and with a clever grin, she continued, “philanthropy is my sport.” Stay tuned. -B.
If you’d like to join MYST in their mission to inspire and help others learn about philanthropy, please visit www.7712.ca, or contact Rita-Clare directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Author, Blair J. Ryan, is Chief Executive Officer of the Empathy Factory, and can be reached at email@example.com.