Job Title: Co-founder, Geomeer Charitable Society, University of Alberta Business Student
WHY HE’S TOP 40: For telling the stories of Alberta’s needy families and finding new ways to connect donors with the poor.
WHAT DO YOU LIKE MOST ABOUT EDMONTON?: “Maybe it’s because I just got back from Toronto, but I think it’s the closeness to nature. In Toronto, you can be in an office building all day and then you get to your place and it’s still all concrete jungle. Being away really made me appreciate the importance of what we have in the river valley.”
Often, when Avenue fact-checks Top 40 Under 40 candidates, we find that the person just squeaks in before his or her 40th birthday. Sometimes it’s by a few years. But with Sameer Dhar, that’s not the case.
He wears a retainer. He meets for his interview at the University of Alberta‘s arts and business quad; he just got back to the city after spending the summer as an intern in Toronto with financial giant, Morgan Stanley.
That’s right. Intern. Dhar is a business student. Dhar is, gulp, just 20 years old.
But, Dhar’s remarkable charitable work earned him an audience with Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge. He’s already helped change the lives of hundreds of needy families in Alberta.
When Dhar was a 16-year-old student at Harry Ainlay, the high school embarked on a food drive that Dhar felt his fellow students weren’t interested in. So, he met with teacher George Heidt, and they came up with an idea; they asked all of the feeder elementary schools and junior high schools to identify a needy family in each of their communities. Dhar’s vision was to make the students aware that poverty affected people in their own communities.
The effort led to $16,000 raised. “If these people can get help for two or three months, to get help to pay for necessities like food, supplies, toiletries, then they can use the money to help catch up on the bills, to reduce their debts, maybe buy the clothes they need to help them get better jobs,” says Dhar.
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From that effort, Geomeer was born. Now, it’s a province-wide charity that sees students learn about the people who are being helped, while protecting the anonymity and the dignity of the clients. The students learn about what the families need and their circumstances, but the names aren’t made public. By year two of Geomeer’s existence, the charity was in schools across the province and had raised $150,000. Year three: $210,000.
Geomeer is also behind Suit Up; money is raised, and needy children are each given $100 Old Navy gift cards to buy supplies for school. They can choose new outfits, bags and backpacks.
“The start of school is often the most stressful time,” said Dhar. “You want new clothes and supplies. Some people say, ‘Just give hand-me-downs to the poor.’ But being able to shop for clothes gives you dignity; it’s about self-esteem.”
Youth in Motion, a Canada-wide initiative that identifies exceptional young people across the country, named Dhar to its national Top 20 Under 20 list in 2011. The process was judged by Order of Canada recipients.
And, he was invited to meet Prince William and Kate Middleton on their 2011 royal visit to Canada, where he also brushed shoulders with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Dhar admits that his protocol was lacking. “I asked the Prince if he’d ever seen How I Met Your Mother, because that’s where we got the Suit Up name,” recalls Dhar. “Here I am meeting royalty and I was asking them if they watch American TV!”