Mentoring success, one business plan at a time

July 21, 2013

The YMCA’s Carla Kendall combines a keen business acumen and strong leadership to inspire budding entrepreneurs.

We’d all love to be our own boss. It can be hard to get a job in uncertain economic times, so making your own work is often a better choice. But it is so much easier to with an experienced mentor.

Carla Kendall, director of the YMCA’s Self-Employment Development Program, loves mentoring new entrepreneurial talent. She admires the drive of the people who have attended the program because of their “sheer determination, fortitude and persistence” in making their own livelihood.

Carla came to Canada as a university student from Trinidad and Tobago and went on to have an 18-year career at one of Canada’s leading retail banks. She then used her experience to foster financial independence in the clients of Calmeadow, a Canadian non-for-profit that promotes microfinance and character-based lending. For over a decade she has been the director of the SED program. She has found that the YMCA is particularly well suited to deliver the program.

“Here we promote the dignity and worth of each person,” she said. “Inclusiveness is truly at the heart of the YMCA experience.”

The program consists of two months of intensive business training where each individual creates a business plan. For the next 12 months the newly minted entrepreneurs are given ongoing support and networking opportunities.

A true mentor, Carla stays in touch with participants long after the formal program ends, offering encouragement and advice. She has stayed in touch with some individuals for nearly a decade after they have enrolled in the course, and uses her ever-expanding network of entrepreneurs as sources of information as well as to provide volunteer opportunities for the latest recruits.

To date, a thousand people have enrolled in the program, and 80 percent have completed it.

“The ideal candidate is passionate about the business, competent and committed, with the necessary business and personal skills,” Carla said.

They also need to have a hunger “to absorb shared information and resources.”

She is philosophical about those who do not succeed, noting life can present its own challenges.

“The definition of success is fluid,” Carla said.  “Life with its unexpected events and situations can temporarily change a person’s priorities.”

Nothing inspires Carla more than watching the transformation of participants as they gain confidence to become their own bosses and she compares it to a caterpillar morphing into a butterfly.

“It is extremely gratifying to witness the entrepreneurs at the start of the program, being ready to soar after presenting their business plans,” she said.

Action Items:

  1. Support local businesses and entrepreneurs in your area.
  1. Learn more about the YMCA’s Self-Employment Development Program at
  1. Mentor someone.

Vermont is the First State to Whack Fracking

Ever hear of a technology and just think to yourself: “that can’t be good”?  When I heard of hydraulic fracturing (‘fracking) to extract oil and gas I had just one of those moments.  Water and solvent chemicals are pumped into the bed rock under such high pressure that it fractures the rock and the solvents release natural gas and oil. 

This is the subject of the documentary “Gasland”:

In short, “Gasland” is a documentary about landowners all over New York State being offered sums of money to allow mining companies to perform fracking on their properties.  Health and environmental issues result: duh.  Again, this is one of those technologies that just can’t be good for anything.  Go ahead and watch the trailer to see flaming water taps and a whole host of sick people, dirty water and lying politicians and executives.

Vermont had the good sense to ban the practice.  I hope Vermont’s wisdom spreads to the rest of the US States because they’re migrating further and further north in New York State coming closer and closer to my dear home, Toronto, Ontario.

Hope comes in the magic of photographic art for seriously ill children

March 24, 2014

Diagnosed with Crohn’s when she was nine, Kayla takes daily medication to try to control the disease so she can continue to pursue her love of horses and riding. So Shawn Van Daele took Kayla on a ride through a magical forest. He also sent Dominic back in time to play with dinosaurs and made Alexandria the Queen of Candyland.


Photographer Shawn Van Daele takes drawings done by children born or living with serious health conditions and turns them into magical photo artwork — starring the child — and then into a storybook series filled with hope.The 37-year-old Guelph-based photographer founded the not-for-profit Drawing Hope Project in 2012 as a way of using his talent to spread hope and inspiration.


“Being able to do something you love, with the tools you’ve been given, that in turn can change someone’s life for the better is the best possible use of your skills and gifts,” he said. “I wanted to bring awareness to rare diseases and conditions […] I wanted to inspire the magic of childhood and let kids and their families who could use a little happiness in their life see that anything is possible.”


McKenna1500x2000InspireHaving worked with more than 30 children and their families across Canada and the US, Shawn continues to receive requests from around the world.


First, the family submits a drawing on the Drawing Hope website along with a short bio about the child’s story and battle. The parents can also include a description of what the child has drawn in the photo and their child’s favourite animal or cartoon. Shawn uses this for inspiration before visiting the child for a photo shoot. Using Photoshop, he turns the photos into artwork, which he says can take up to eight hours per photo, and puts together the storybook.


“A little boy named Marco sent me a painting of a huge green apple,” he said. “I brought some green apples to his photo shoot and we began throwing them around in the air. Then afterwards I used the photo of him and the apple, and turned the apple into a magical hot air balloon he is flying through the air in as he became Marco the Explorer.”


Dominic1500x2000InspireAs the project developed, Shawn realized the pictures are just as meaningful to the children’s families.  


When you have a child that goes through a life threatening illness, every single picture is so very precious,” said Joanna Mitchell, whose daughter Ryley (the Queen of Hearts) was saved by a heart transplant at 7 months old. “Each picture you take captures a moment that can never be repeated, and when your child’s future is uncertain, there is nothing more valuable than those pictures to remind you of all those moments.”



Shawn is now creating a book called The Hunt for the Hope Stone, featuring the first 27 children he photographed. In honour of his father, who recently passed away, Shawn is co-writing the book with his mother. In it each child has become a character and is on an adventure to find the Hope Stone. All proceeds are being split equally to all the foundations and hospitals that the families of the children in the book have chosen. There will likely be future books.






This is a video of Ryley’s reaction to the Drawing Hope Project photo:


  1. To learn more about the Drawing Hope Project, to donate or to have a storybook made, visit or
  1. Through this project Shawn has learned that being an organ donor is the simplest and most valuable thing you can ever do. You can register at