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Help wanted:
N.S.-based Empathy Factory invests in child labour

Blair Ryan and Stephanie Shute believe in putting kids to work. They want to see children grooming dogs, cleaning city parks and organizing social programs. And they don’t want to pay for it either; they think it should be a labour of love.

Such is the philosophy behind The Empathy Factory, a school-based program and summer camp founded by Ryan. It’s designed to teach kids, ages eight to 13, to be better citizens.

How realistic is it to think that the same child who refuses to make her bed or put his clothes away will voluntarily work to improve the community? The answer, according to Empathy Factory volunteer Scott Blunden, would shock you. “The enthusiasm on the kids’ faces speaks for itself. They love the empowerment and watching their ideas become reality.”

Here’s how it works: first, children take part in an introductory workshop that describes what the organization is and does. Then, they submit ideas for community projects, outlining – in their own words – what the benefits would be and what they need to accomplish their goal. A panel selects a project(s) from the submitted proposals, and the kids, with the help and support of the Empathy Factory, take on that project(s). They fundraise for their initiatives, with 100 per cent of funds raised going towards the project(s).

Blunden says response to the program has been overwhelmingly positive since it was launched last October, and that there are already six schools signed up to participate in the coming year. He says Ryan dreams of having it become part of the school curriculum, and having Empathy Factory outlets across the country.

The organization also hopes to get the business community on board as sponsors. “Fundamentally, this gets to the heart of corporate social responsibility,” Blunden says. “It’s about stepping up to do what we can to encourage future leaders.”

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