‘Tis the season for giving and Aileen Hill, founder of the Precious Gems Project, is hoping people will open their hearts and wallets to help send underprivileged Scarborough kids to art camp. Hill has established an IndieGogo campaign with a goal of raising $7,500, which will buy a lot of spaces in Cedar Ridge Creative Centre‘s after-school, March Break or summer camp programs.
Hill started Precious Gems eight years ago in response to a leadership course that challenged her to find a place in the community where she didn’t have a voice. A lover of children and a photographer and jewellery designer, Hill was working as a reservations manager for a major hotel chain, feeling just a little cut off from her own creative spirit.
“At first I wanted to start my own camp but I thought, why reinvent the wheel? So I started looking at what was out there and found Camp Expressions at Cedar Ridge. It’s a tremendous program!”
That first year Hill convinced Cedar Ridge to set aside 10 places and she committed to raising the funds — $300 for each child – to send 10 kids to camp. She reached her goal and has been working with local schools and businesses ever since to bring creativity to kids who otherwise could not afford to take part. Since 2005 Hill has made the Creative Expressions camp possible for more than 150 children.
“Each child needs to write a paragraph about why they want to go to camp,” explains Hill. “It could be anything from ‘I want to make new friends,’ to ‘I don’t want to be at home all the time,’ or ‘I love art and I want to be an artist.’ ”
Hill’s desire to expand and broaden the Precious Gems mandate has inspired her to leave her full-time job and work part-time at different creative and entrepreneurial pursuits while dedicating more time to her fundraising activities.
“There’s a real need for this program as the schools cut back on their own art classes,” she says. “Eventually I’d love to have programs throughout the city that touch on different disciplines – dance, spoken word, music. But I started with Cedar Ridge and I love it there, it’s like family. The City of Toronto has really worked with me to help me build the name and reputation of Precious Gems. I’m working with the Catholic School Board and the Toronto District School Board to reach deserving children.”
Visit the Precious Gems IndieGogo page and make a contribution: “I think crowdfunding gives another opportunity to reach the grassroots and find like-minded people,” says a hopeful Hill. “Every dollar counts!”