Last Thursday I joined three others at Eastview Secondary School to sit on a judges panel of a very different kind. Usually judges are choosing the 'best' at something: art, music, speech-making, sports.

But last Thursday we were participating in Youth Philanthropic Initiatives, a unique program borne out of earned wealth by visionary Canadians.

Let's back up a bit. In 1985 Frank Angelo, Frank Toskan and his sister Julie Toskan, and chemist/business grad Victor Casale developed ingredients and production methods that launched their kitchen sink cosmetics business. They worked hard. They blended their business with charitable efforts--particularly AIDS (in 1985 AIDS was a relatively new phenomenon). Their company? M.A.C. Cosmetics. By 1998 the company was a $400 million international effort. The owners sold to Estée Lauder, making them very, very wealthy.

With money, business acumen, and youth on their side, the Toskan-Casale team of three developed this unique charity, a philanthropic initiative that involves young people researching charities and presenting background and initiatives about the charity to a group of peers. Lots of presenters get narrowed down to semi finalists and that's who we were meeting last week... 8 semi-finalist student groups who had learned a tremendous amount about 8 different charities and were bidding to have 'their' charity chosen as the most deserving.

Deserving of what?

Each school with a winning team and a winning charity gets $5000 to present to that charity. The $5000 comes from Frank, Julie and Victor, three of the original M.A.C. founders. It's the Toskan Casale Foundation (www.toskancasale.org) with the Youth and Philanthropy Initiative and it's unique.

This brilliant concept engages grades 9 and 10 students, local charities, local leaders and youth... everybody wins.

Twenty-seven students presented 8 stories and the judges heard about charities for Tourettes Syndrome, Child Find, Out of the Cold, Epilepsy, Women & Children's Shelter, Youth Haven, Deaf Access Simcoe and the Chase McEachern Foundation. There's a long list of criteria, a numbered judging system and each charity in its interview with the presenters indicates what they would do with the $5000.

It was a tough call... great students doing a great job. After much negotiation we settled on Youth Haven... home and hearth for homeless teenagers in Barrie since 1987. Just as M.A.C. was building its formulae, its marketing strategy, its brand, Youth Haven was culling out a couple of rooms, finding used furniture, some cooking equipment, bedding and a place to for kids to eat. Youth Haven's 10 beds are always full and the charity will use its $5000 towards down payment for purchase of a second home for street youth.

It doesn't stop there.

May 29, all 200 schools from across Canada will send their winning teams (and their charities) to the Elgin Theatre in Toronto for a day of philanthropic celebration. Entertainment. And each student team will present a $5000 cheque to 'their' charity.

Julie Toskan-Casale, Victor and Frank all celebrate this incredible initiative... their foundation will give out $1 million on that day alone and charities and the people they help will benefit enormously.

Who else benefits? The students who decide on a charity, do the research, develop the video, power point, slide show presentation, share the microphone and tell the story. They win big time.

The whole community wins as high schools involve their youngest students in this kind of research. Awareness has no price tag.

And the judges win big time... why? They are forced to make a difficult decision, easily applauding the efforts of a great teacher, Bill McPherson, and 27 students who made it to the finals.

Talk about win-win-win.

Thanks, Julie and Frank and Victor. Thanks, Bill McPherson for blending this into your Civics class. And thanks to every student who headed out to find out more!

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