Interview: How Hannah Taylor launched the Ladybug Foundation (in first grade) and turned empathy and creativity into $2 million to help the homeless
When Hannah Taylor was 5, she saw a man eating out of a trash can. For the next year, Taylor interrogated her mother with questions about homelessness. One day, her mother challenged her to do something about it. So Taylor organized a bake sale and clothing drive in her first grade classroom to raise money to help. Out of that effort grew the Ladybug Foundation, an organization dedicated to ending homelessness that has since raised over $2 million. Taylor, now 14, travels widely across her native Canada, delivering a call to action.
Dowser: Seeing that man living on the street changed you. Can you describe that moment?
Taylor: It was around Christmas, me and mom just had manicures. I was looking at how sparkly my nails were when I saw him. He was eating from a dumpster. He looked right at me.
I asked my mom why he was eating garbage. She said he was homeless and had no food. I couldn’t believe there were people with no homes, who had no food. I worried about him that night, and almost every night for the next year. My heart was sad that whole time.
I kept worrying and asking my mom questions about homelessness. One day she said, ‘Hannah, maybe if you do something about it your heart won’t feel so bad.’
What did you do?
I asked my grade one teacher if I could speak to my class about homelessness. We had a bake sale and collected clothes, food, and coffee for a mission in Winnipeg.
How did you decide which shelter to help?
My dad took me to see a few. I picked Siloam Mission because the homeless people got food and a place to sleep. I was so happy I could help, I cried. But this time happy tears.
And that was just the beginning.
It snowballed pretty fast. So many people wanted to help that we had to start an organization, the Ladybug Foundation.
Your baby sister helped, too.
She was eating a lot of baby food then, so we painted the jars to look like ladybugs. We put them in stores so people could put money in them.
The Ladybug Foundation has helped 48 shelters. Why do you only give to shelters that also provide food?
It’s too hard to try to find food and a place to sleep in the same day.
Gordon Sinclair of the Winnipeg Free Press said you see homeless people as people, and most of the rest of us don’t. Why do you think that is?
It matters how you act, not how you look or smell. I think if more people knew someone who was homeless, they wouldn’t care so much about how a homeless person looks or smells.
To spread your message you often tell stories about the homeless people you meet. Can you share one?
Sure. Once, when I was 8, I stopped to fill a homeless man’s asking cup with all the change in my purse. Then I hugged him and left. His name is Carey. Twenty minutes later, he came up behind me and handed me my ladybug charm. It fell into his cup by accident. He said he thought it might be important to me. We’ve been friends ever since.
You have friends in high places, too.
I do. I started taking big bosses [wealthy donors] to lunch to talk to them about homelessness. After a few lunches, I thought, this would be so much easier if I could talk to lots of big bosses at once. That’s when we started ‘Big Boss Lunches.’
How do you inspire the big bosses to write big checks?
I tell them why we should all care all the time. Then I ask them if they will help. For my first Big Boss Lunch, I drew 50 pictures to sell. Most were of ladybugs. One of the big bosses asked how much they cost. I said, ‘Let your heart decide.’ He said, ‘I’ll take one for $10,000.’
Not bad. You also got a meeting with the Prime Minister. How did you do that?
When I first heard about him, I wasn’t sure what the Prime Minister was. My mom explained that it was the head girl or boy of Canada. I said, ‘I have to talk to him.’ My mom said, ‘Hannah, I don’t think you’ll be able to talk to Mr. Martin.’
I kept asking and finally she called his office. I left a message. Forty-five minutes later someone called back and invited me to join him at a luncheon. He spoke and I spoke.
What was it like sharing the stage with the Prime Minister?
It was fun. It was at a Chinese restaurant. Mr. Martin and I held hands and walked in behind a dancing dragon puppet, the kind with people underneath. He’s a very great man. He taught me that it’s Canadian to care.
You do a lot of speaking. Do you get nervous up there?
No, because no one knows if I make a mistake or not. Because I’m the only one who can see my notes. My nana taught me that.
- Seven Solutions to Homelessness: Facts + solutions for homelessness in Canada, from B.C. news source The Tyee.
- “Make Change”: A documentary on Taylor and the Ladybug Foundation
- World’s Children’s Prize: Learn about more kids around the world making positive impact. (Taylor is on the jury.)
When two of my friends died from being homeless. They found my one friend, Patches, on the riverbank; he drowned. I had exams and couldn’t go to the funeral. My other friend froze to death because she couldn’t find a place to sleep. These are the saddest and hardest things.
What will Canada be like when the Ladybug Foundation reaches its ultimate goal?
People will care about each other like family. The homeless will have homes and won’t have to eat out of garbage cans.
This interview was edited and condensed.