Do it for Daron co-founder receives philanthropy award
‘I’m totally surprised at how far this has gone’
Left to right are Stephanie Richardson, Erin Sauvé, Jody Thomas and Lisa Benvenuti at the 17th annual Ottawa Philanthropy Awards gala where Sauvé received the Outstanding Individual Youth Award.
Photograph by: Bruno Schlumberger, The Ottawa Citizen
OTTAWA — Erin Sauvé is more accustomed to wearing hockey skates than high heels, but on Wednesday night the 15-year-old donned a pair of heels, curled her long brown hair and wore a favourite dress to pay homage to a friend.
Sauvé, a Grade 10 student at Sacred Heart Catholic High School, is, along with friends Lisa Benvenuti and Reid Murphy, a founder of the Do it for Daron campaign to raise awareness about mental health issues among young people.
Like many such campaigns, D.I.F.D. originated in tragedy. Last November, Sauvé’s best friend, Daron Richardson, the 14-year-old daughter of Luke Richardson, an Ottawa Senators assistant couch, and Stephanie Richardson, committed suicide.
Sauvé, who was also 14 at the time, has tried to make something positive, a legacy for her friend, out of that despairing event. By all accounts, she and her friends have succeeded far beyond their expectations, raising about $1.5 million to help fund education and research programs to aid mentally troubled youth.
On Wednesday, Sauvé’s achievement was recognized at the 17th annual Ottawa Philanthropy Awards. More than 300 people crowded into a Fairmont Château Laurier ballroom to honour the teenager and five other Ottawa-area residents as the region’s top philanthropists for 2011.
Sauvé received the Outstanding Individual Youth Award. Other award recipients included Wesley Nicol, who received the Outstanding Individual Philanthropist award, and Chuck Merovitz, recipient of the Outstanding Volunteer Fundraising award. The Outstanding Philanthropic Group award went to the Barrhaven Lions Club, while the Outstanding Small Business Philanthropist award was given to Cistel Technology. Adobe Systems Canada (Ottawa) received the Outstanding Corporate Philanthropist award.
“Our community is incredibly generous,” Leah Eustace, president of the Ottawa Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, said in a statement. “This (was) our opportunity to pay tribute to those individuals, business leaders and community groups whose philanthropic giving continues to enhance our great city.”
For Sauvé, it was all a bit overwhelming. What began as a simple plan to memorialize her friend by having members of the hockey team for which they played — the Kanata Ottawa Senators bantam AA team — apply D.I.F.D. stickers to their helmets has turned into an international campaign. Thousands of people in schools, sports clubs, golf clubs and hockey teams around the region, across North America and even in Europe have come forward on Purple Pledge Day — Daron’s favourite colour was purple — to pledge or raise funds for the Daron Fund at the Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health. For example, former NHLer Bryan Berard and figure skater Marie-France Dubreuil have raised $35,000 for D.I.F.D. with their appearance in CBC Television’s popular Battle of the Blades competition.
“I’m totally surprised at how far this has gone,” Sauvé said in an interview. “At first we thought we were doing (the D.I.F.D. campaign) for local people and for people who knew Daron, but then it just took off. We were shocked at how many people wanted to support us.”
She’s not the only one who has been surprised.
“This all started with one kid who wanted to make a difference,” said Jody Thomas, president of the Ottawa Senators Women’s Hockey Club, who nominated Sauvé for the award. “She has already changed the world. She has changed her grief into action and helped heal our community and her friends.”
Stephanie Richardson echoed that sentiment, saying Sauvé’s D.I.F.D. campaign had greatly helped her family. “(Sauvé) was Daron’s closest friend and she has helped Luke, myself and our daughter, Morgan, deal with our grief. She has been incredible. This young woman has inspired us adults to be brave.”
As far as Sauvé is concerned, D.I.F.D. is about extracting something positive out of her friend’s death. On average, 10 people in Canada die by suicide every day, and suicide is the second-leading cause of death in teens. (It is also the leading cause of death for men aged 20-29 and 40-44 and for women aged 30-34.) D.I.F.D. is a youth-driven program focused on raising awareness and encouraging people — young and old, parents and children — to talk about mental health. The idea is to encourage young people to not suffer in silence from the pain and stigma of mental illness, to make teens aware that help is available.
Sauvé likes to think Daron would approve. “Daron was always a person who wanted to help others. I think she would be proud of what we have done to help others.”
As for her own future, it’s a bit too early to decide, but the idea of a philanthropic career has crossed her mind. Her experience with D.I.F.D. has been an eye-opener. “I’ve learned that if you want to help you have to put yourself out there.”
In the meantime, she’s looking forward to playing hockey. “Wearing high heels is harder than wearing skates.”