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UofGH alum working to raise $100,000 for local businesses

University of Guelph-Humber alumnus Ammar Abdul-Raheem has always had a passion for philanthropy. Now, he is raising funds and awareness to help small local businesses that have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Named the Heart of Toronto fund, Abdul-Raheem wants to raise $100,000 to support individuals, local businesses and charities in the Greater Toronto Area. Organizing the fund was a logical step for Abdul-Raheem, who has been a longtime ambassador for local businesses in the GTA.

“Toronto is just filled with gems, and so 10 years ago, I started this whole trek to really visit every small business, every small restaurant that I can,” he explained.

“I'm sure you have a few small businesses in mind that you love to go to,” he added. “You love that smile that they give you and the extra care that they give you. They make up the heart of Toronto.”

To maximize the impact of donations, Abdul-Raheem will be purchasing products, services or gift cards from small local businesses—and then distributing them right back into their communities.

Abdul-Raheem plans to make a donation to a different local business after every $1,000 raised. For his first donation, he is supporting Loga’s Corner, a family-run Tibetan restaurant located in the Toronto neighbourhood of Parkdale. Abdul-Raheem will be purchasing $500 of momos, Tibetan dumplings that the restaurant specializes in, to pass out to people in the community. The other $500 will be used to purchase frozen momos for frontline workers at a nearby hospital.

A life-changing experience

Abdul-Raheem had the same passion for community during his time at the University of Guelph-Humber. He credits his time at UofGH for cementing his desire to spread positivity and make a difference.

While studying in the Business program, with a major in entrepreneurship, Abdul-Raheem made a goal to speak to as many people as he could.

“I've always been about talking to people personally, with the intent to see how to make things better,” Abdul-Raheem said. ”That mission of speaking to a hundred people a day set me on this course of really trying to understand people and the problems we all go through.”

During his time at UofGH, Abdul-Raheem was also Vice-President of Student Life at IGNITE, an organization that represents students from the University of Guelph-Humber and Humber College.

“Working at IGNITE was life changing,” he reflected. “It completely changed and reassured my trajectory of life.”

That trajectory ultimately led him to creating his own business, which is dedicated to spreading positivity and kindness.

“My aspiration in life is to be kind and nice for a living. It’s always sounded fluffy, but I'm trying to make that as much of a living reality as possible,” said Abdul-Raheem.

“I think currently we pay people to look good. We pay people to have talents. And I think that's fair. People want entertainment. I believe that there is a way of entertaining people through being kind and showing all the good things and all the positivity that's going on in the world.”

Connecting with the community

A few years ago, Abdul-Raheem had the chance to put kindness to the test. After graduating in 2017, Abdul-Raheem, along with his best friend, traveled on a coast-to-coast trip across the country. During their 30-day journey, the two did not spend any money on accommodation, food or travel. Instead, they relied entirely on the generosity of Canadians.

“We wanted to prove just how nice Canadians are in the most concrete way possible,” he explained. “I think we did it.”

It is that same kindness that has propelled the Heart of Toronto fund. In a few weeks of creating the GoFundMe, Abdul-Raheem has raised nearly $3,000.

“The response has been wild,” he said. “You hope that when you put out a fundraiser like this that people are going to be kind, and people are going to donate. You still get taken aback by just how kind people are.”

While raising money is an important part of the Heart of Toronto fund, Abdul-Raheem stressed that it’s also about raising awareness about local businesses and how to best support communities.

He reflected on the businesses that have been impacted by the pandemic. “This is someone's dream. This is someone's life. This is someone's aspiration,” he said. “I know that small businesses can turn a dollar into a dream and a thousand dollars into a lot more.”

The Heart of Toronto fund—which will be ongoing for the next several months—is the exact type of work that Abdul-Raheem wants to continue doing: helping the community and connecting with others. Those are two things he continually saw the importance of during his time at UofGH.

“There's so much value in the people around you. We're all learning from each other, and that is the best thing about Guelph-Humber,” he said.

“You don't know where your path takes you,” Abdul-Raheem added. “But now looking back at it, it was so clear that by connecting with people, that completely changed my life.”