Heroes in our West Village community

“As an experienced parent, what do you think is the most important thing I can teach my children?” asked my friend and recent parent, Andrew. Without a moment’s hesitation I responded “If you instil empathy in your children and teach them to be appreciative you will raise wonderful human beings.”

This strong belief is what drives me to sponsor Project Give Back at Humewood, Cedarvale and Regal Road Public Schools. Project Give Back was designed by Ellen Schwartz to develop empathy, build character, and ignite community minded citizens. It’s a year-long journey where fourth or fifth graders teach each other about philanthropy and develop an understanding of the world around them.

Project Give Back logo
Project Give Back logo

The program exposes children to stories of hardship, triumph and perseverance and they take away many invaluable life lessons. I want to share a few that have touched me.

At an appreciation evening for sponsors, students and parents spoke about the life changing lessons that come out of Project Give Back. One student chose a women’s shelter as his charity for the Project Give Back journey. During his presentation to the class, another student chose this time as an opportunity to speak about his own personal experience of living in a very similar shelter with his mother.

It was the safe and nurturing environment created by Project Give Back that gave this student the courage and security to do the unthinkable which is to share this painful experience for the first time with his classmates. The classroom discussion that resulted after that was one of deep meaning and compassion. This moment became a teachable moment which touched and inspired the lives of many, me included.

Ellen Schwartz believes that Project Give Back has long lasting effects on children. Josh Arbess, valedictorian at Leo Baeck and graduate of the program is clear proof that Ellen is right. Josh was so moved by his experience with Project Give Back inspiring him to continue his charity work past grade five.

Josh Arbess 1
Josh Arbess

Josh recently became a Bar Mitzvah, and it’s quite common for families to throw a party celebrating this important milestone. Josh, who had been deeply affected by the earthquake in Haiti, decided to forego a traditional party and use the funds to help the less fortunate. Josh believes that “education is one of the building blocks of life and key to breaking the cycle of poverty.” As a result of this, he decided to use the allotted party funds to purchase 1,000 Kinder Kits from Ve’ahavta, The Canadian Humanitarian and Relief Organization. The education kits include a backpack with school supplies necessary for a single child’s academic year. 

At Josh’s inspirational bar mitzvah party his friends participated in assembling the kits and listening to Spencer West, a motivational public speaker, who shared the struggles he overcame after losing his legs at age five. The party was a brilliant celebration of life, love, joy and hope.

Josh Arbess 3
Josh Arbess

Josh and his dad personally delivered the kits to children at La Maison D’Espoir, an orphanage just outside Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Josh was waist-deep in emotion witnessing the poverty, but he said “In Haiti kids have no phones, iPads or computers yet they are happy and take great joy in small pleasures. I believe that life is simple and we should enjoy it.” Josh’s family further honoured Josh’s Bar Mitzvah by funding the university education of four orphans.

Josh’s inspiration was fuelled by Project Give Back and he intends to continue in the path of giving back to his community, both at home and abroad. This is the miracle of Project Give Back and I am thrilled to be a part of its magic.

The Life Changing Trip from Josh Arbess on Vimeo.

Originally printed in the Village Living Magazine in August 2013

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2 Responses to Heroes in our West Village community

  1. Dorothy Siemens says:

    Fantastic story – thank you for posting it!


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