For Mark Mannarn, coming up with the concept for his charity event was simple. "I love hockey. And I hate cancer," the 12-year-old says.
The result? Minor Hockey Fights Cancer, Feel Like a Pro Day, in Toronto ( www.minorhockeyfightscancer.com).
Mark lost his grandmother to pancreatic cancer last year. His mother, Judy, is now fighting breast cancer. And after participating in a school program about student advocacy called We Day, Mark put the pieces together.
At his event at York University Ice Sports on June 18, former professional hockey players, including Paul Coffey, will host hockey clinics for boys and girls. The first 240 children to register and raise $200 in sponsorship get to participate. If they raise more, there are prizes and a "Gold Medal Game" with the pros.
"One hundred thousand dollars is my goal," Mark says. "It's to fund research and hopefully find a cure for cancer."
The proceeds are earmarked for the Canadian Cancer Society. Mark is hoping that MHFC becomes an annual event for all minor-hockey communities across the country, "like the Terry Fox run."
Sponsors, including banks and telcos, have been unable to resist Mark's charms. It's not hard to see the soft-spoken, Bieber-haired boy with a toothy smile as the perfect poster child.
It's the new, pint-sized wave of fundraising. Three of the current top 10 fundraisers for the Ontario branch of the Canadian Cancer Society are children. Mark is ahead at almost $11,000.
Cancer charities are happy to be associated with kids like Mark. Newsletters and websites cheerfully print photos of these youthful dynamo volunteers. Kids now collect funds at birthday parties, participate in charity runs and grow their hair so it can be cut and made into wigs for patients.
"We're definitely seeing more youth fundraising activity," says Kara Spedding, Ontario director of community outreach and innovation for the cancer society. "Kids are learning about the importance of philanthropy at a much younger age."
Ellen Schwartz, a veteran elementary-school teacher and the founder of an Ontario-based curriculum about philanthropy, says parents are hoping that their kids out-fundraise them. "We want the next generation to be caring and compassionate, more than we are," Ms. Schwartz says.
In Project Give Back classes, students in Grade 4/5 pick causes to research and support. Ms. Schwartz says that by choosing their own advocacy, the children – and the charities – get more of a boost.
"It's driven by them and what touches their hearts," she says. "With so much invested in it, they realize the power that they have and the self-esteem and confidence that goes with their presenting skills."
Former students of Ms. Schwartz's, Samantha and Sydney Turack, started the Blue Brain Bracelet drive while their late father was fighting brain cancer. They have sold more than 5,000 of the $10 beaded bracelets, according to the website.
Emotional appeals from children whose family members are fighting cancer are potent. "It's quite hard for people to say no. These youth are incredibly driven and determined," Ms. Spedding says.
The campaigns aren't the lemonade stands of yore. Many are extremely slick social-media machines.
Mark, for one, spent a good part of his March Break overseeing the development of the event website with volunteer designers. There are crisp videos, presentations and a Bell-sponsored $5 text-giving program being rolled out.
"The PowerPoints these children put on!" Ms. Schwartz says.
And while Mark's father, Art, acknowledges that he has lent a major helping hand, he still gets choked up when talking about his son's determination. "I try not to get emotional talking about it," he says. "Working on this has been a huge blessing for us."
Cancer is one of the most meaningful causes kids latch on to, Ms. Schwartz says. Even children who aren't personally affected by it are acutely aware of growing cancer rates, and environmental and health risks associated with the disease.
"If I open a can of Diet Coke, my 11-year-old daughter will take it away from me," Ms. Schwartz says, referring to studies that have suggested a link between aspartame and cancer.
But she says it's key to help kids focus on the positive, especially with a scary disease.
"They're learning that something good can come from something bad," adds Ms. Schwartz, who also founded the neurodegenerative disease charity Jacob's Ladder to benefit children like her son, Jacob, who has Canavan disease.
While Mark says focusing on his start-up event helps him cope with his feelings about his mom being ill, he also says there have been many happy moments to focus on.
Best memory so far? Making a presentation to his whole school. "After my speech, a lot of kids came up to me and said, 'I really want to be involved. Even the Grade 4s.' "