A family’s reciprocity: They inspired him to change the world, he inspired them to join him.
By Sarah Fox
Photography By Blair Gable
As a child, Mitch Kurylowicz’s questions went beyond the usual rhetorical “why?” At first, his mother didn’t know how to answer queries about why people in their local and global community were suffering, or who would help these individuals in need and—perhaps most difficult of all—why he and his family couldn’t solve the problem themselves.
While Lynda Kurylowicz didn’t have all the answers to her son’s big questions, she did have experience in supporting family members with their pursuits, which meant she knew how to find answers and achieve goals.
Lynda’s experience with this started at a young age, when she and her older sister Michelle Douglas were just kids. They took part in the Girl Scouts Brownies program—an extracurricular activity their mother Loretta would eventually help guide as the volunteer leader. “That was sort of our first exposure to volunteering,” Lynda recalls
For her, Brownies was more than the badges she and Michelle worked so hard to attain; in Lynda’s memory, it was an experience that fostered a sense of togetherness.
Doing things, like Brownies, as a family was a tradition “sparked by our mom” explains Lynda. And though, as they got older, Lynda and Michelle’s paths nudged them toward their own individual passions, they remained a close unit.
The two sisters would each go on to help others in a unique way.
For Michelle, it began after high school. While a student studying political science and law at Carleton University, she remembers discovering her voice. “I became inspired to help those that stood up for something that was important to them and to me.”
There to support her—as always—was her sister Lynda, who describes her family as one that is inclusive and understanding of each other.
In Lynda’s case, it wasn’t until she became a mother that she started to take a deeper interest in being a part of actualizing the change she wished to see in the world. Because of her inquisitive son and the issues his questions raised, Lynda was inspired to learn more, as she forged opportunities to guide his curiosity.
When Mitch saw a problem he wanted to fix it—accepting the status quo was never an option. “I think that kids are less accepting of that than adults,” says Lynda. “I think in a lot of ways, too, his innocence or naivety sparks something in adults.”
It did for his mother.
Lynda drew on Michelle, chair of WE Charity’s Canadian Board Of Directors, to help her nurture Mitch’s budding interest in social issues. When Mitch was nine-years-old, the three of them flew to Kenya to get a better sense of what it meant to be citizens of a global community.
This would set the course for the next decade of their lives. From this trip onwards, Mitch would be dedicated to Project Jenga—the building of an all-boys school in Kenya—and Lynda and Michelle would jump aboard a ship sailing out into open-water, charting their course along the way.
“That’s really what I owe my mom: a big thank you for allowing me to go and see a different part of the world,” Mitch told us during his interview with WE. “It’s really changed my perspective and given me new insight.”
Onboard, Mitch was the captain, but his mother populated the ship through relentless outreach. “I’m sure there are lots of people that are so thankful that they have call waiting, so they can see when I’m calling… because they know I’m going to ask for something… again,” Lynda laughs.
Her efforts paid off. She created a network of families and individuals that supported Mitch’s project. And, when the scope of the project widened, this network was instrumental in helping the family raise the $1-million dollars it took to open the school.
As for Michelle, she gave Mitch a better understanding of how WE could help him achieve his goals and what needed to be done. “Over the years, she’s always been present at our events, always brought lots of people and always been really supportive of the team,” he gushes.
At times, Project Jenga seemed daunting and the fundraising for it almost insurmountable, but as a family, Mitch, Lynda and Michelle, persevered, becoming closer in the process. “Our bond has grown over the years just through virtue of doing a project and working on something together,” Mitch affirms.
Classes at the all-boys secondary school commenced on January 12, 2017, and the dream Mitch first conceived of as a child, has become an opportunity for a community of young men.
“What I’ve learnt from Mitch is that if I just watch, I can learn so much… not just from my contemporaries and my elders, but from those much younger,” says Michelle.
Canadian change-makers Lynda and Michelle are the two pillars Mitch leans on for support. By learning from their collective willingness to give, determination to achieve and passion for connection, Mitch has shared in their success, as Lynda and Michelle have shared in his.
Read on for more about how to help the budding change-maker in your family achieve their goals.
Lynda & Michelle’s 5 tips to raising conscientious children
1. Use everyday situations as lessons. “When Mitch was young, if there was something that was wrong, we would try—in some small way—to right the wrong or find an example in everyday life to show Mitch how to help people. Even at the grocery store, if there were bags for a food drive, we would always take the opportunity to fill the bag and explain the situation. Ultimately, to do more than nothing,” Lynda says.
2. Take on the role of “supporting cast.” Lynda allowed her son to take the reins on his own project. “The last thing I would ever want is to pressure him. It’s his project—I’m just the supporting cast. I’m happy to support.”
3. Draw on your local community. Without the help of their network in Ottawa, Mitch’s project would have never been possible. “They were pivotal to the success of it,” Lynda says. “They all reached out to communities outside of the community that we shared together.” Project Jenga was a joint effort, as Lynda appealed to parents to help her with outreach and fundraising events, Michelle facilitated an ally with WE Charity.
4. “Don’t give up so easily,” as Lynda suggests. When Project Jenga changed from the refurbishment of a building to the building of new ones, their fundraising goal went from $250,000 to $1-million. When this happened, they didn’t give up; they worked harder. “We had no idea what we were doing when we started, but eventually it just sort of happened. When we look back, I know it was a whole lot of work, but I know it was more than worth every minute that we put into it.”
5. Do what you can, where you can, when you can. You don’t have to travel across the world to make a difference, and you don’t have to be young to start. “Some people are late bloomers. It’s never too late to decide you want to participate in changing things around you,” Michelle says. And, as Lynda adds, “I think that if people get out into different communities–outside of their own—you gain a whole lot of perspective.”