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Child anti-poverty activist gets Canadian business leaders to donate

TORONTO -- Canada's youngest anti-poverty crusader touched the hearts and pocketbooks of some of the country's top business leaders Wednesday with a simple but poignant message: Everybody should have a home.

Trailing her prop-filled ladybug bag on wheels, 10-year-old Hannah Taylor's blonde pigtails bounced back and forth as she made her way to the podium at Toronto's posh Royal York Hotel, where she told a Bay Street audience that homeless people aren't any different than anybody else.

Taylor, who hails from Winnipeg, is on a cross-Canada speaking tour with stops in Calgary and Edmonton to deliver the message that love and kindness is the best gift anybody can give.

"You can help homeless people in a lot of ways: You can share what you have by donating food and clothing and some of your money," Taylor said.

"Mostly what you can do is be nice to them. If they're cold, share your mitts; if they're sad, say hi to them and give them a hug; if they're hungry, lend them a sandwich and just love them like family. They need that most of all."

The charming and articulate Taylor began her campaign five years ago after she noticed a homeless person eating out of a garbage can.

Through her Ladybug Foundation charity, she has helped raise more than $1 million through a variety of creative campaigns, including Big Boss Breakfast events in which she invites business leaders to learn more about homelessness and her cause.

The Ladybug Foundation is also planning to launch a new Canadawide education program in 2008 that will give students from Kindergarten to Grade 12 the tools they need to make a difference in their communities.

During her speech, Taylor entertained the crowd with stories about everything from her summer holidays and favorite story books to the homeless friends she's made along her journey, as well as meetings with famed animal researcher Jane Goodall and former prime minister Paul Martin.

She urged her wealthy guests to do what they can to feed, clothe and put a roof over the heads of Canada's less fortunate.

"Every day, homeless people are brave and courageous and strong," she said. "Every day, they do what they can just to live 'til tomorrow."

Her pitch clearly moved many in the crowd who donned her red scarves, purchased for $20 each, and filled her little hand-painted ladybug canisters with loose change.

As a special thank-you for her dedication to the homeless cause, Tim Godfrey, an investment advisor with event sponsor Richardson Partners Financial , grabbed his guitar and serenaded the youngster with a version of her own "Lady Bug Song."

"Hopefully today Hannah has taught us that if we can get past being uncomfortable, we can see the faces of the homeless and understand that they are people like you and me," said Richardson president and CEO Sue Dabarno.

"Let's not be afraid of caring. Let's treat them with respect and help make a difference in their lives."

Dabarno, who called Taylor an "inspiration" who "walks the talk," said funds raised at Wednesday's event would be put back into the Toronto community through frontline organizations that support the homeless.

Taylor's philanthropic efforts have won her the distinction of being the youngest person to receive Canada's Top 20 Under 20 award. She was also recently nominated for the World Service Award - an honor previously bestowed upon Mother Teresa and former first lady Nancy Reagan.

Nov. 22 2006
Canadian Press

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