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The donor: Ellen Schwartz

The gift: Creating Project Give Back

The reason: To help children develop empathy and become community leaders

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When Ellen Schwartz was teaching elementary school, she developed a course on empathy, leadership and giving back to the community. “I just wanted the children to be more open-minded and generate some compassion for others,” Ms. Schwartz recalled from her home in Toronto.

She left teaching after 16 years and created Project Give Back in 2008, a charitable organization that offers a version of the course to Grade 4, 5 and 6 students across Toronto. So far, Project Give Back has reached more than 10,000 students, and this fall, the course will be taught in nearly 20 schools across Toronto. The course runs from October to May and students are encouraged to pick a charity or cause that’s close to them. Ms. Schwartz draws on her own experience setting up Jacob’s Ladder, which raises money for research into neurodegenerative diseases. The charity was named after her son, who was born with Canavan disease, a rare neurodegenerative disorder. He wasn’t expected to live more than five years and he’s now 21, she said.

Schools pay a nominal fee for the course and Ms. Schwartz has relied on fundraising and sponsors to cover the $300,000 annual budget and pay for more than a dozen teachers. She’s planning to expand it beyond Toronto and she never gets tired of teaching the course. “I love it,” she said. “I love seeing the spark in the kids’ eyes.”

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