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13 Year Old Activist Jonny Gray is the Anantara Roving Elephant Reporter

charity, FAM, International, ROAM By October 16, 2012 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , No Comments

What do you think it would be like to have your passions and activism rewarded by being flown across the globe, given VIP access and hosted (along with your Mom) at stunning Thai resorts while you met elephants and reported on polo matches?  Cinderella meets Madagascar kind of movie, right?  Nope.  For 13-year-old elephant lover and polo enthusiast Jonny Gray of London, Ontario, the dream became a reality.  Named this year’s Roving Elephant Reporter for the 11th Annual King’s Cup Elephant Polo Tournament in Hua Hin, Thailand Sept. 12-16, 2012, he was given the experience of a lifetime.

As the Roving Elephant Reporter, Jonny became a star of the elephant polo circuit, delivering a television report and enjoying VIP access to all areas of the four-day event, including exclusive interviews with participating players, elephant experts, and celebrities.   Jonny and his mother, Jacquelyn Doucette, spent seven-nights stay at Anantara Hotels, Resorts & Spas Riverside Resort & Spa in Bangkok and Anantara Hua Hin Resort & Spa in Thailand.  UrbanMommies was granted an exclusive interview with Jonny and he shares about his love of animals, activism and his travels.

UM:  What first made you like elephants?

JG:  My first exposure to elephants was through the African Lion Safari near Cambridge, Ontario where we loved to watch the elephants have a bath. I fell in love with how they interacted with each other like a family and how they seemed so bonded with their trainers. I dreamed about seeing them one day in the wild on a safari but never thought it would be so soon!

UM:  When you were selected to become the Roving Elephant Reporter how did you feel?  Had to traveled overseas before?

JG: When I first got the news I won I was speechless and then I became scared because I was worried about the responsibility of being a reporter on this charity event. I didn’t know what to expect!  Eventually I became excited about traveling to a new part if the world and experiencing all it had to offer. I had traveled to Europe but never to Asia.

UM: What are 5 things you packed for the airplane?

JG:  The flight to Thailand was very long. It took us over a day to get there and we stopped in Belgium and India on the way. To keep me busy I packed my iPod for music, a good book, lots of snacks (gummy worms!!) and a travel pillow so that I could sleep.

UM: What would you tell other kids about rescued elephants in Thailand?

JG:  There are over 1500 elephants that live in captivity working on the streets in Thailand. Although most are treated as well as possible by their owners they still live a life of poverty without much to eat and poor living circumstances. Many people recognize that this is a big problem in Thailand and are making efforts to help them.  My experience is with the elephants which have been rescued by Anantara Resorts. They provide a wonderful life for thirty rescued elephants where they spoiled and doted on. You can visit these elephants and learn to take care of them if oh ever get a chance to visit Thailand!!

The charity polo tournament that I was reporting on helps to support these elephants as well as providing funding for an elephant hospital and ambulance, and even research with elephants.

UM: How would you advise other kids to become animal activists?

JG:  I believe that animal activism starts at home. My parents have taught me that animals need our respect and protection. We have always taken care of baby or injured birds, rabbits, chipmunks and mice that we have found on our property. We learned what they needed to eat and how to take care of them from the internet. We have also adopted dogs which needed homes and because we are on a farm we did the same with horses. Awareness that animals need our help, and learning about endangered species, is an important step towards being an animal activist. You can learn about the animal rescues in your community and see if they need volunteers, but even just spreading the word about these foundations helps to raise awareness about the needs of the animals in our communities. I think a great idea is to have a birthday party which ask for donations of pet food or toys instead of gifts to be given to your local animal rescue is a great way for kids to help!!

UM: You stayed at the Anantara Riverside Resort & Spas.  What were your favourite things about the hotels?

JG:  I had the privilege to stay at Two resorts in Thailand. The first one was the Anantara riverside resort and spa in Bangkok and the second one was their resort in Hua Hin. One thing I loved about the resorts was all the tropical plants that we don’t see in Canada. I felt like I was staying in the rain forest! The food was amazing too! However, by far the best thing about the Anantara chain of resorts was the people. They were so friendly and helpful they made me feel at home eventhough I was half a world away.

UM: Finally – tell me about the other activities you did while you weren’t busy reporting!

JG:  I was so busy in Thailand reporting on the tournament that I had to decide between two activities – a Thai cooking class and a trip to Monkey Mountain. Well, I chose Monkey Mountain because I heard it was an incredible experience and I was right! As we drove up the mountain we started to see monkeys occasionally and we were pretty excited because we had never seen monkeys in the wild before. At the top of the mountain, we met a lady who sold peanuts to feed to the monkeys. When we bought a bucket full from her, monkeys started coming from everywhere and suddenly there were hundreds of monkeys surrounding me wanting a peanut. It was crazy! The monkeys were so fast and they climbed everywhere to get a peanut, even on my head. I was really scared at first but after the peanuts were all gone, I got three more buckets just so I could experience it again!!



Kids and Charity: How to Encourage a Giving Spirit

charity, FAM By September 5, 2012 Tags: , , , 1 Comment

Although there are always exceptions to every rule, the majority of children are born with kind hearts and enjoy doing good things and helping people. Sure, they have their moments of selfishness, clamoring after their own and other kids’ toys, but most kids are good people that like making the world a better place. The benefits of actively fostering children’s charitable impulses are enormous. Besides helping counter the overdeveloped “gimme” impulse, it gives kids a powerful boost in self-esteem to realize they can make a difference in someone’s life. Here are some tips on kids and charity, and how to encourage a giving spirit.


Ronald McDonald House Charities

charity, FAM By March 22, 2012 Tags: , , 2 Comments

We were introduced to our first Ronald McDonald House in London, Ontario on our final All-Access Trip.  With 12 Ronald McDonald Houses across Canada, 309 around the globe and plans for 2 more in Canada located in Red Deer and St John’s, the scope of this charity is huge.

I was embarrassed that I only knew a few things to begin – like 10 cents from every Happy Meal goes to the charity, and that families stay there when their child is ill and hospitalized.  The amount I didn’t know, and had trouble imagining, was what changed my perspective on life more than anything else in the McDonald’s All-Access Moms Program.  Meeting real people in crisis is a powerful thing.   People with real stories, pain, and incredible strength.  I hope that my involvement with the charity is limited to volunteering, and I pray that I will never be one of the 10,000 Canadian families per year who become residents in one of the houses.

Just imagine being a parent of a child with leukemia when your spouse has to stay at home working. Imagine being a 4-year-old sibling of a sick child who doesn’t understand why Christmas isn’t happening this year like normal.  Imagine being a Mother who spends every waking moment at a hospital with no time to cook or do laundry.  The doctor’s visits when there is bad news, or when there is good news and hope.  Imagine just for a second and then push it out of your mind.  Ronald McDonald House exists in order to give families the gift of time.  As Margaret, the executive director at the Ronald McDonald House in London uttered: “We can’t buy the children time, but we can give it away.”  The gift of preparing hot meals, dealing with Christmas shopping, laundry and expenses can allow families to spend precious time together as a unit.

Here’s what I didn’t know:

1.  The first Ronald McDonald House opened in Philadelphia in 1974.

2.  New initiatives for the charity include Ronald McDonald Family Rooms in hospitals and Ronald McDonald Care Mobiles which may be used to travel to inner cities or remote areas where there are limited resources.  The 40 x 8 feet mobile vehicles are specially designed to deliver pediatric health care services, where children need it most.

3.  McDonalds underwrites the salaries and all expenses of Ronald McDonald House Charities Canada employees so that 100 percent of dollars raised go back to the Houses.  This is very rare.

4.  The (Canadian) federal and (Ontario) provincial governments have supported the Houses through capital funding as well. Recently, the Infrastructure Stimulus Funding program parceled out over 22 million to renovate and increase the number of rooms in the Toronto, Hamilton and London facilities.

5.  The family dinner program is a crucial component of daily life for families using the Houses.  Individuals from the community are able to sign up to donate food, time and cooking skills to make a dinner for the House. The value to families is immense.  After a long day at the hospital, parents and siblings get a home cooked meal that they don’t have to prepare or fund.  And volunteers can see the immediate impact of their efforts as they dine with the grateful families.

6.  Although it’s not completely free to stay, thanks to the support of their sponsors, Ronald McDonald House families pay on average only $11 per day though no family is ever turned away due to an inability to pay.

7.  Despite the increase in beds and space for families with children in hospitals, the Ronald McDonald House in London in particular has an occupancy rate of 86 per cent.  Wow!

8.  $37 million has been raised since 2004 from Happy Meals alone.  That’s ten cents at a time.  You can do the math.  I’m kind of inept with decimals…

9.  Spaces in the London House include: 5 computers with internet access, a toddler playroom, children’s library, play space for 6-12 year-olds, teenage room, fitness centre and a home theatre room. The different areas and nooks within the house allow families privacy and encourage them to live their lives as normally as possible.  The respect for the individuals is immense.  Families have their own locked cupboards in the kitchen in case the kids will only eat nutella or mac and cheese.  Tupperware and bags are readily on-hand if families would prefer to eat later or take their dinner back to the hospital. My favourite place was the treasure chest.  This room is very special and has a magical effect on the children that stay at the House.  But I can’t say anymore…I’ve been sworn to secrecy by the pirates.

10.  There is a section in many Houses, just as welcoming as the other rooms, where families whose children are immune-compromised can stay, in order to further prevent the spread of germs to these children.

I used to volunteer for many organizations and since having had kids I have struggled to incorporate charity into my life.  I have now found a place I can put down roots and show the kids what it means both for us and families in need to help.  Whether we cook a meal, take unwrapped toys to help siblings adjust to their temporary surroundings, donate some Tupperware containers or teach a tap dance class in the House to help release some stress.  I want to incorporate this charity into my life with my kids.  I keep thinking more creatively about how I can use my unique talents to help – donating time and talents are just as valuable as contributing money.  I took my boys to our local Ronald McDonald House yesterday to deliver toys.  They met many children and played, hugged and laughed.  For many, I think the friendship was a more powerful gift than the toys.

You can find the other All-Access Mom blogs on the Cityline Microsite.


Dare to Draw with UrbanMommies: Help Combat Aids in Africa

charity, FAM By January 18, 2012 Tags: , , , , No Comments

Join Team UrbanMommies as we raise money for the Stephen Lewis Foundation. Help turn the tide of AIDS in Africa.

Calling all kids!

We Dare you to Draw one picture every day for the next 30 days. Funds raised by your drawings will help support kids, parents and grandparents who are working to turn the tide of AIDS in Africa.

Your dare is an act of solidarity with kids in Africa who face great challenges every day because of AIDS.

Calling all parents!

We dare you to contribute $1 to the Stephen Lewis Foundation for every drawing your kid dares to create.

Now Get Going! Here’s How:

Join the Dare to Draw UrbanMommies Team.

Download and sign the Dare to Draw pledge!

Download the Dare to Draw Dare Chart! It will tell you and your kid what the drawing theme of the day is and kids can check off drawings they have completed.

“Like” the Dare to Draw Facebook Page. Share your kid’s drawings and stories about your Dare to Draw experience with other Daring kids and parents.

Donate. You can do this at any time by clicking the Donate button above the thermometer on the Dare Page. This money goes straight to the Stephen Lewis Foundation to make a difference in the lives of kids, parents and grandparents in Africa who rise to meet the challenges of the AIDS pandemic with extraordinary acts of courage, ingenuity, determination, and strength in their communities – every day!

Alternatively, if you don’t want to join a team but you want to participate in the dare, you can simply donate to the Dare to Draw UrbanMommies team by clicking the “Donate” button above the thermometer on your team’s page.


Unique School Fundraising Ideas

charity, FAM By December 3, 2011 Tags: , , , 7 Comments

Unique School Fundraising IdeasWith the government constantly cutting back school funding, it is up to parents and communities to raise significant parts of the the budget – particularly where sports, arts and playgrounds are concerned.  We interviewed Karey Heard, a mom of two and crackerjack fundraiser from Toronto, to provide us with some ideas.  If you can get a great fundraising team together, you can mix traditional fundraising initiatives with out-of-the box ideas.  Ultimately, the process will do more than raise money for your child’s school


The Final McDonald's All-Access Mom Trip

charity, FAM By November 27, 2011 Tags: , , , , , , 3 Comments

About to take off on my final journey I am quite sad, actually.  The whole experience as a McDonald’s All-Access Mom has been transformative, but not in any of the ways I expected.  Sure – lots of questions have been answered, I’ve traipsed around farms and plants (check out the videos), and worn way too many un-sexy lab coats.  But I also feel like a better mom.  A better citizen.  The corporate culture of McDonald’s and its suppliers is much friendlier – much more transparent, than I was expecting.  After almost 6 years of momm-ing, I think I’ve gotten a bit too insular.  Charity work had lapsed and a disconnection to the world and it’s news had set in.  The opportunity to participate in the MAAM program has helped change that.

I am most excited about seeing the Ronald McDonald House Charities.  Giving back.  Sharing.  Helping. These charities give homes and home cooked meals to families whose children are hospitalized with severe illness.  I will be spending a full day with the children and families involved in the London, Ontario house, learning about the program and more importantly, the people.  I hope that I can take the lessons of charity and giving back to my own children and incorporate them into our daily lives.  I know there has been criticism of the All-Access-Mom program, but this is an opportunity to get a glimpse into something that nobody could say McDonald’s doesn’t do really well.

The second part of the trip?  Chicken at the London, Ontario Cargill facility.  Shall I cluck like when I moo-ed at the cows?  Want to know the deal with the shaped McNuggets?  (I already asked about chicken lips and toenails getting into the mix.)  Nada.  Any other questions?  Reconstituted white meat?  Glue? Sawdust? Last chance!!


The Tiny Light Foundation

charity, FAM By February 14, 2011 Tags: , , , , , , , 2 Comments

The Tiny Light Foundation pairs photographers with families of children faced with life altering diagnoses, and gives them the opportunity to capture their joy, strength and courage in photos. These photo sessions may otherwise be out of mind for families faced with expensive medical costs or overwhelming obstacles above the call of an average parent.