Mary Hawk: A Young Philanthropist Shaping Self-care For Women For A Better Future
Mary Hawk founded Sheen for She, a foundation on a mission to provide self-care for at-risk women across the GTA and beyond.
“Please take good care of yourself.” With that simple sign-off, used during our initial correspondence to schedule this interview, Mary Hawk showed me caring, compassion and kindness — a small thing, perhaps, but a meaningful gesture to me during this period of pandemic stress and worry. And one that is at the core of Hawk’s being. In 2018, at just 18 years old, Hawk started the Sheen for She Foundation, an organization providing self-care services to financially underprivileged women to eliminate and raise awareness about gender inequality, violence against women and poverty. Hawk’s mission is to introduce self-care into the fight for a better future. “Just like food, just like shelters, self-care is just left out of that domain of human needs, and so I thought someone has to stand up and provide this very neglected, but specific, public women’s health need.”
During our interview, it was clear that her passion for providing care for women comes from her upbringing. “My parents always tried to incorporate as much awareness, knowledge and questions into my journey about finding out about women’s issues, and whether it’s about women’s issues in Canada or women’s issues internationally, I was always driven to understand how it affects everyone whom I live around, my surroundings, my community and how we can solve these issues collectively. As a woman, I feel like I have an identity that’s associated with every single woman.”
As ambitious as she is bright, Hawk, now 21, describes herself as “a leader, diligent and empathetic,” and it shows through her actions. She is currently completing a bachelor of science in software engineering at Arizona State University, as well as a bachelor of Science, with a double-major in political science and psychology at York University’s Glendon Campus.
Throughout her impressive and full schedule, Hawk has made it a priority to find a meaningful way to give back to her community. “Since my childhood, I’ve been involved in philanthropic work by dedicating my time, skills and talent to help people in my communities. Through my experience, I look at innovative solutions to help my community, and you know, I have an open heart, but I also have an empty wallet, so I try to do the best I can with just the knowledge that I’m gaining.”
Before the pandemic, the foundation offered in-person programming esthetics, self-defence training, healing circles and self-care workshops; however, due to the pandemic, it is no longer holding any in-person programming. The organization has pivoted to focus on its Perseverance Aid Kits Project. “Our Perseverance Aid Kits Project (PAKs) has been a great way to tell these women that they are remembered and that they are in our hearts and minds, and whenever we take action, we think of them before doing something because they are the centre of what we’re doing at the organization.”
Since starting the Sheen for She Foundation, Hawk has received enormous support through the foundation’s GoFundMe page, with a goal of raising C$300,000 to assemble 5,000 PAKs, which are customized packages tailored to address women’s self-care needs, covering everything from hygiene, makeup, skin care, hair care, face care, body care, nail care, home-making items, clothing and more. “We started in May 2020 and were supported, in the first phase of our project, by Rising Youth Canada. They funded the first 500 of our PAKs, and we continued after that with a second phase with Red Cross Canada.”
With Red Cross Canada’s support, the foundation was able to distribute more than 3,000 of its PAKs across the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) to women living in transitional homes and tent encampments. As the need for PAKs increased, the foundation realized that children were also in need of supplies and extended the project to Perseverance Aid Bags to distribute to 500 children in the GTA who didn’t have ready access to hygiene and mental-health kits.
The project was initiated by Hawk because of the pandemic and has been the most outreach that the organization has ever done. “Through this, we’ve been introduced to so many women’s lives, and they’re opening up and telling us about our stories. And it is our responsibility to stand up, to learn, to understand and then act upon all the skills and awareness that we’ve gained.”
Continuously championing for women, Hawk hopes to transition PAKs to a regular, long-term program. Once Sheen for She reaches its GoFundMe goal, she hopes to create a self-care mobile unit in which PAKs can be distributed in underprivileged neighbourhoods and rural areas, so that they become a normality where these services are currently nonexistent: “We hope to expand our reach and empower more women and also become a regular occurrence in their lives.”
With a bright future for the Sheen for She Foundation, Hawk remains focused on moving forward: “We hope that we have a greater amount of public support for our movement, that more people begin to recognize the importance of self-care in the lives of women and that Sheen for She influences public policy to change in the favour of at-risk women.”
For some women, Hawk takes it upon herself to share the gift of a conversation. “Some women don’t have access to anything, and so I give them a call, and we talk and we talk as often as she needs to. It’s the least that we can do to become something that a woman can rely on.”
“Through my experience, I look at innovative solutions to help my community, and you know, I have an open heart, but I also have an empty wallet, so I try to do the best I can with just the knowledge that I’m gaining”
Hawk is changing the face of what philanthropy looks like. She dispels the idea that one must have a lot of money to give back philanthropically and embodies what the literal root of the Greek word philanthrōpia means, which is “love to mankind.” She is an example of someone who is serving her community with her resources and isn’t afraid to address issues in her community. “The truth is that our media does not cover women’s issues specifically and how prevalent they are depending on the situations we’re going through. Whether it’s an economic downfall or a pandemic, we’re not talking about women’s issues, and so I really want to come out as someone who is not afraid to talk about the dark truths in our own communities and bring them to life.”
Not only are these issues coming to life through Hawk’s foundation, but also she is a source of encouragement for others who are interested in starting a non-profit. “I work with a lot of women interested in bringing their ideas to the forefront because we’re not heard, and we’re the new generation with new and fresh ideas. If you want to start a non-profit organization, I highly recommend doing your research. A lot of the fear and anxiety associated with doing something so big is lack of information and also misinformation. As we do research, it clears up a lot of things that are in our mind. The most important thing to remember is the fear that we’re feeling; we have to ask ourselves, ‘is that fear outweighing our passion to do good in this society?’ And if it’s not, then go for it. My parents always say, ‘Do your best and leave the rest.’ Things will take care of themselves. If you do your research, make sure you ask the right questions and let your passion take over your fear.”
And, just as graciously as our initial interaction, Hawk’s sign-off over the phone reminds us of the conversations we can lead to bring comfort and joy to anybody’s day: “I want to tell you it’s been a pleasure meeting with you and speaking with you. And I hope that whatever dreams you have when it comes to changing the world, and the lives of women, that you do achieve them.”