Teen philanthropists want to lead their own non-profit group but face barriers

Click to play video: 'Montreal-area teens petition feds over charity status' Montreal-area teens petition feds over charity status
WATCH: Montreal-area teens petition feds over charity status Sparkes of Hope has raised over $58,000 for Haitian children in the Dominican Republic. The founding members, two teenage girls, are petitioning the federal government in the hopes of being allowed to register as a non-profit corporation. Navneet Pall reports – Oct 14, 2016

It’s been three years since 13-year-old Jane and 14-year-old Isabel Szollosy embarked on their journey to help impoverished Haitian children from the Dominican Republic with their organization Sparkes of Hope, which has raised $58,000 for summer camps.

Jane and Isabel are now setting their sights on something bigger by aiming to build a school.

“Haitians in the Dominican Republic have absolutely no rights. They have no rights to health care, they have no rights to education,” Isabel Szollosy said. “That’s why we want to support these students in particular.”

In order to achieve their goal, the Szollosy sisters want to incorporate Sparkes of Hope as a non-profit corporation.

“[Incorporating will] definitely formalize Sparkes of Hope. [we] also become more accountable to our donors and lastly, have access to government grants,” Isabel said.
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But there’s one problem. Federal law prohibits minors to sit on the board of directors of any non-profit corporation.

That’s why they started an online petition asking the federal government to allow teenagers aged 14 and over to sit on the boards of directors.

Since the petition opened on Wednesday, they’ve gathered 122 signatures.

Their aim is to have 500 signatures by February.

“We believe that we really should be changing this law or at least starting a conversation about how youth can be more involved in a legal way,” Isabel said.

The Szollosys’ petition caught the attention of Vaudreuil-Soulanges Member of Parliament Peter Schiefke, who is also the secretary to the prime minister for youth.

Schiefke agreed to sponsor the petition and if the Szollosys gather 500 signatures, he said he will present it in the House of Commons.

If that happens, parliament will then be obliged to answer the petition.

Although this step is just beginning in challenging not-for-profit laws, Schiefke said it’s important to challenge the status quo.

“If nobody has a response for why we can’t make the change, then you’ve basically shown that a change can and should be made,” Schiefke said.

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As the Szollosys wait to find out what will happen to their petition, they will continue planning for next year’s summer camp.


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