Brooke Harrison was just six-years-old when she started her first volunteer project. Affected by her five-year-old cousin’s recent diagnosis of Leukemia, Brooke, wise beyond her years, turned a stressful and worrisome situation into an opportunity to make a difference. With her parents’ support Brooke created a charity cookbook filled with recipes from family, friends, and even a few stars that she sold to raise funds for leukemia research. Titled “Cookin’ in Brooke’s Kitchen” this cookbook was such a success that Brooke went on to publish a second edition a few years later. To date the two books have raised over $60,000 for childhood leukemia research and help to fund three research fellowships.
For many children that would have been enough, but Brooke was just getting started on what would become a consistent philanthropic endeavor throughout her childhood and adolescent years. “The way my parents raised my brother and I was to be caring and empathetic people. We took that to heart”, she said.
At age 13, Brooke formed the first ever Youth Advisory Council (Y.A.C.) for the Philip Aziz Centre for Hospice Care in Richmond Hill, raising $150,000 in five years, through charity golf tournaments and other fundraising initiatives. “Some kids are involved in rep sports; they go crazy for it, spending all their time and energy on it. We [my family] do charity work,” said Brooke matter-of-factly.
And it truly is a family affair. For the last two years Brooke, alongside her brother and parents, has been focusing her efforts on helping some of Ontario’s poorest children in communities situated more than 600 kilometres north of Thunder Bay. After hearing about the extreme poverty and dire living conditions of Ontario’s Ojibwa and Cree children living on northern reserves (often compared to conditions in Haiti), Brooke and her family were determined to help in any way they could.
“I sent out an SOS to family and friends and there was such an outpouring of donations,” said Brooke. Local businesses also pitched in, providing items from the very modest wish lists of the four communities, which included clean bedding, gently used clothing and school supplies. “Our living-dining room was covered with boxes from floor to ceiling; our poor dog couldn’t walk around,” she said. The first year more than $100,000 worth of donations were taken in to these remote communities with the help of the Ontario Provincial Police. Then this past year they held a second fundraiser focusing on sports equipment and again were shocked by how their local community rallied together to make a difference.
Now in university, Brooke’s volunteerism and commitment to helping others has not waned. “Right now I am focusing on getting a university degree that I can transfer into something I can use to help others on a daily basis,” she said. “I want to blend my philanthropy with my career and become a humanitarian lawyer, or run a not-for-profit; something that I can make a difference,” she said.
Yet, surely she has made a difference. Brooke is now being recognized for her efforts in a number of different ways. For the last two years she has been enlisted as the Youth Ambassador for Magna International’s Neighbourhood Network championing the benefits of volunteerism to her peers.
She was also the recipient of Youth in Motion’s Top 20 Under 20, which is awarded to 20 Canadians every year who have demonstrated a significant level of innovation, leadership and achievement, but have not yet reached the age of 20.“When I got the phone call saying I’d won, it was definitely a teary-eyed moment,” said Brooke, who is remarkably grounded considering her growing list of accolades.
“The whole point of why I do all of this is to make someone happy,” she said. “I just can’t imagine my life not helping others. It’s a huge part of my life; it’s become who I am.”