Maddie Canter enthusiastically leads new Heart of Passion club

Senior Maddie Canter’s friendly voice fills the Heart of Passion club’s January meeting. “If you hear a weird gurgling sound, that’s my dog. She’s been acting weird all morning,” she says, laughing and evoking smiles from members. “We’re all friends now,” Canter declares. 

Canter leads the DHS club meeting, which she created with fellow senior Audrey Flynn as a subset of the larger, national nonprofit. In Heart of Passion (HoP), teens work towards planning “Red Carpet Day,” an all expenses paid four day retreat filled with fun events, like steamboat cruises, a event at the aquarium, and more, for teens with cancer. They describe themselves as “for teens from teens.”

When the pandemic hit, HoP scrambled to adapt the events to be virtual, with things like a magician, arts and crafts, and movie nights.

Canter strongly believes leading the Decatur club necessitates listening to other members. She invites others to solicit fundraising ideas and critiques o

f her own ideas, encouraging members to be “honest” and “listen” to each other in order to elevate the club’s work. 

“Everyone in the club is the same age, so I don’t want it to just be me talking at them. I think a really important aspect of leadership is that, even though technically I have a little bit more experience, I think that everyone is very capable and treating everyone like they’re very capable [is important],” Canter said.

Junior Sophia Holland manages social media for the Heart of Passion club, and is charged with making infographics like this one, for the HoP raffle.

First on the agenda, Flynn discusses the Spark Hope Raffle, a fundraiser the club is organizing for proceeds to go towards the larger nonprofit. Airpods, a sweatshirt embroidered by member Palmer Mattingly, and a Starbucks gift card are among the prizes that raffle enterers may win by paying $3 per entry, which Canter hopes will incentivize high school students to donate. 

She notes the relevance of Red Carpet Day. “Now more than ever it’s really important,” she says, referencing the unemployment rate this morning, which was high.

Next, Canter broaches the club with a new HoP service opportunity: Hangtime with Heart of Passion, a virtual event to get to know teens with cancer. She shares that this, along with the entirety of the club, holds personal significance to her: her mom has cancer. When she participated in this event with teens experiencing a similar disease, “it was kind of reciprocal and it felt really impactful to connect with them.” 

Canter initially learned of HoP while she lived in New Orleans through friends involved in the program who were quick to recommend it for its “great cause.” Shortly after her discovery, she learned her family was moving to Decatur, and was hesitant to join the New Orleans chapter in the midst of this transition. After moving though, Canter jumped on the opportunity to join the Atlanta chapter. 

Once she was involved in HoP, her mom’s diagnosis with cancer in October 2019 motivated her to get even more passionate. As the pandemic posed a greater threat, cancer patients were isolated during and following receiving treatments, such as bone marrow transplants. 

“Typically, when a family member is in treatment, someone gets to visit with them, but my mom was alone for two whole weeks. Thankfully, she’s an adult, so she can handle it a little bit differently, which, not saying it’s easy, but I think for a teen, if I had to do that, if I were stuck in a hospital room for two plus weeks plus two days give or take, and I was pumped full of chemo, that’s not a pleasant experience, there’s no other way to put it,” Canter said.

When browsing clubs at Decatur, she was surprised that an opportunity like HoP didn’t already exist. 

“I think everyone in Decatur to an extent really cares about issues that impact a lot of people, and I think most people in Decatur are very passionate and willing to work hard toward those issues,” she said.

After garnering a year of experience with HoP, Canter was eager to expand her impact, and talked with friends about doing so. That’s when she and Flynn, who wasn’t yet in the program but wanted to help, spearheaded their club. The club, Canter says, will also “leave a legacy for underclassmen” so that HoP can continue their work and gain more members for their Leadership Development Program (LDP). 

A poster for the Atlanta chapter advertises Heart of Passion’s mission.

Teens admitted into the LDP through an interview and application process oversee the planning and execution of Red Carpet Day, with advisement from community mentors. Their roles depend on their committee, which include programming, finance, and hospitality.

As a finance chair this year, Canter is constantly conversing with her fellow committee members on tedious spreadsheets, writing grants and organizing innovative fundraisers. One such fundraiser for February is distributing flyers as a service opportunity. A creative opportunity they put into action during the pandemic was a virtual 5k fun run movement weekend, which Canter was the recruitment chair for. 

Making elevator pitches, a concise explanation of what you do and your ask, is also integral for HoP fundraising, whether to stores, restaurants or to form partnerships with hospitals. Originally Canter drew the connection between an elevator pitch and the film, The Wolf of Wall Street. But, she quickly realized how much preparation the pitch necessitated, which she admits is intimidating initially but then “can be fun.” 

All of this experience, Canter says, has allowed her “to run the [DHS] club as smoothly as possible.” 

Being a teen herself, Canter is aware of the often difficult, transformative time period. 

“When you’re already trying to find your place within the world, school community, your family even, and have cancer on top of that, it can be a burden,” she said. “I think Heart of Passion works to relieve that burden and makes everyone who participates feel as if they’re still a part of a community, supported, and like they aren’t alone.” 

Because HoP entails teens helping other teens with cancer who are facing more isolation than average, and “gaining real world experience,” Canter believes it serves as a unique opportunity. 

“There’s causes like Make a Wish or Relay for Life, but there’s not a lot of causes that are like you planning an event for these people, not only just for them to enjoy it, but for you to connect with them, and for you to foster a really unique relationship, which hopefully, if you stay in touch, will last a long time and be something they remember.”

Canter remains optimistic despite challenges in organizing virtually. She maintains an inclusive, light-hearted atmosphere in the club, as she finishes up the January DHS HoP meeting by asking what everyone had for lunch. Senior Virginia Weston replies that she had a bagel from Decatur restaurant B-side with lox. Canter declares her the “unanimous winner,” as no one else shared.