Olivia Brockhoff is 16 years old in grade 10 from from Lloydminster Alberta. When she was in the 3rd grade a friends of her’s little sister was diagnosed with cancer and spent teh next 2 years in and out of hospitals. Olivia desperately wanted to do something to help and while she knew that she didn’t quite have teh skills to cure cancer she went ahead to think about what she COULD DO! She loved PJ’s and knew how a great pair could make you feel cozy and safe so at age 11 she started collecting new pajamas to donate to local children’s hospitals for the kids there and Project PJ by Olivia was born!
She has collected over 6000 new pairs of PJs for the Stollery Hospital in Edmonton Canada.
She is an Honour student and member of Lloydminster Youth Council and she also visits local schools to talk about kindness and how kids can make a difference.
Transcription of Today's show is below!
Maria Fuller- Well welcome Olivia. I'm so excited to have you on the show today. When I first heard about you, I saw this video that went viral, which we're going to talk about. And I was like, Oh, I wonder who this girl is. And so good old Google, I got onto Google, and I googled your name, to see what I could find out. And then I found out like, all of his stuff that you're doing. And I'm like, Holy moly, this girl's amazing. I totally need to have her on the podcast and chat with her. And so we connected and I'm so so so happy that you were able to share some of your time with us today. I'd love for you to start out by telling our listeners a little bit about yourself, your age, if you're comfortable, where you are in the world and the kind of the work that you're doing.
Olivia Brockhoff - Yeah, for sure. Well, thank you for having me. I'm super excited to be able to talk to you. I'm 16 And I live in lloydminster, Alberta, Canada, and that's pretty much me
Maria Fuller- So you're in Canada, is that closer to the east coast or the West Coast?
Olivia Brockhoff - It's like right in the middle, we're on the border of Saskatchewan and Alberta. So it's it's pretty great because we can go wherever in the same amount of time.
Maria Fuller-Awesome, super cool. What's your weather like right now?
Olivia Brockhoff - It's been awful. It was last week, it was minus 50. And I walked to my car, and I thought I got frostbite. It was a two minute walk from the school to my car not even and I thought I got frostbite!
Maria Fuller- Wow. So I'm not going to complain about like 30 degrees when you are in negative 50 degrees. Oh, my goodness. Okay. So you founded a project. How many years ago was this five years ago?
Olivia Brockhoff - Yeah. Just finished off my fifth year
Maria Fuller - So it's called Project PJ's?
Olivia Brockhoff - Yeah, project PJ by Olivia.
Maria Fuller- All right, tell me a little bit about that, like, how that started what it is.
Olivia Brockhoff - So basically, I was probably in I can't remember how old I was in grade three, and my friend's little sister had cancer. And she had cancer until I was probably in grade eight, which was two years ago. So that's a long time and she was always in and out of hospitals like, it was awful. They had to rush her to the hospital in Edmonton, the Children's Hospital in Edmonton. And so I went to get my nails done with my mom. And we were talking about her and I was like, I don't understand, like, I need to be able to do something because kids my age are brilliant. They're trying to cure cancer. They're coming up with all this technology. I was like, I'm smart, but I'm not smart enough to do that. So what can I do to help her and I was like, Oh, I know, I love PJs. Let's totally do this. Let's collect a bunch of PJs throughout our community and donate them to the Children's Hospital. By the time it happened, she was no longer in the hospital. But so other kids like her can enjoy it and feel more comfortable and have a little more hope when they are there.
Maria Fuller- I love that, so much of what you just said, right there. I was like, Oh my gosh, yes. The fact that you said kids are brilliant, and they have brilliant ideas. Hello, yes, that's the entire reason why you and so many other girls on this show, because you guys have amazing ideas. And while you may not have the science in your head yet to cure cancer, right, you can see something that some people might see as a problem and see it instead as an opportunity to help others right and to make a difference. in your own way, and you can do that at any age. You don't have to wait until you're a grown up to do that, right?
Olivia Brockhoff - Yeah, exactly. Like I always say you're never like too little or too big to make a difference. It doesn't matter how old you are, how young you are.
Maria Fuller- Yeah, and PJs. I mean, let's face it, when I'm sick, there's nothing more than I want to have a really good pair of comfortable PJs and to be able to just be comfortable. I think for so many kids, when they end up going to the hospital, a lot of times kids end up in the hospitals like in emergency situations, in your street clothes. You get there and those hospital gowns, First of all, they're ugly. Second of all, they're scratchy, they're not warm and cozy. Your butts hanging out in the back and nobody was there butt hanging out in the back. Right and it makes you feel I think worse. When you have it on, right? So I love that you started with those PJ's So you tell your mom I want to do this and you go and you collect PJs and how did you like connect with the hospital? How did you just go do that? How did the hospital accept them? Because the hospital could have said yeah, no thanks. We don't want PJ's. But they did it.
Olivia Brockhoff - Yeah, for sure. So my mom contacted the hospital and was like, so my daughter wants to do this. I was wondering if it's okay, because you always have to make sure you have their permission or it can become this, big thing, but it's a good idea because people are sick, you never know. And so we contacted the hospital. And they were like, Oh my gosh, that sounds amazing. That would be so great. We'll keep in touch. You give us details. They have to be brand new PJ's like brand brand new PJs and so we were like, Okay, perfect. And then we kept in touch with them off and on throughout the first year just to make sure like everything was going smoothly. And now every year, we just contact them before we drop them off. And they're like, sweet, we'll meet you here at this delivery spot in the back the hospital and we're like perfect. And then we just drop them off every year. So it's, it's been really great.
Maria Fuller- Awesome. So how did you start fundraising for them? Because you've donated a lot of PJs in the last few years. How many pages have you donated?
Olivia Brockhoff - Oh, man, I don't even know. I want to say over 7500
Maria Fuller- Oh, my goodness. That's a lot of Pj's
Olivia Brockhoff - for sure. Over 7500, Yeah. So when I started, I had no idea who to talk to like, so I was like mom, like, I don't know. I don't know what to do. So we went and we talked to my principal. She's like, yes, sweet. Let's start it. Here is my little elementary school. Then she was like, for sure we'll talk to the other schools and then we put it on Facebook and got a lot more attention than I was expecting or ever hoping. Like, my goal for the first year was 100. And I thought I was probably gonna get 20 and my parents were like, oh, we'll see where it goes. And I got like 600 that year. So it was it was pretty crazy.
Maria Fuller- Wow. So you put out kind of like a call out on social media. you're collecting PJs. And did you put like a bucket somewhere something where people could just come and donate PJs?
Olivia Brockhoff - Yeah, we started drop off spots. So companies who found out about it were like, Oh my gosh, is so cool. What can we do to help? So my mom's work, had a drop off spot and they would have a little like a cute little box with a paper explaining like what it's for. And my High School now in my elementary schools back then, and it's just grown so much because so many companies like meridian surveys. Like, it's hard for me to remember sometimes it's just so many companies want to be involved in help out and it's so great.
Maria Fuller- That's awesome. So is it just this one hospital that's getting all the PJs or have you branched out to other hospitals now,
Olivia Brockhoff - um, it used to be just that Edmonton Children's Hospital. Now we're branching out to our hospital here, because there are little babies that are here, and I think, but I'm not 100% Sure. There's a new Children's Hospital in Saskatoon. So I think we're going to branch out there too.
Maria Fuller- That's amazing. So the pajamas are going to kids of all ages, right?
Olivia Brockhoff - Yeah.
Maria Fuller- That's awesome. So where do you see this going? What is your hope for this project?
Olivia Brockhoff - Oh man. Honestly, I have no idea, I want it to go so many places, but yet I have no idea. I just wanted to continue and keep growing year after year after year.
Maria Fuller- Yeah, I think that's good taking baby steps, right and leaving the opportunity open to see what happens with all of this. And so you've probably have developed a lot of skills along the way from doing this work. So how was it to ask for the first time for donations or to speak with some of these companies that want to help you do stuff? Have you been able to have some of this interaction yourself?
Olivia Brockhoff - Yeah, it's been so great because I think of myself as a shy person. And I was never a public speaker or I didn't like doing any presentations or like calling somebody and talking on the phone with somebody and having this, these opportunities to talk to people in front of people. Get us to speak in front of Thousands of people at a woman's conference. It's changed my life so much. Because I feel like I could get up in front of everybody, anybody and present whatever I need to. It's given me a lot of life skills and people skills. And it's been, it's been a really cool experience, that's for sure.
Maria Fuller- Yeah. I mean, I can totally see how that would happen. Not many people at your age get that opportunity to be thrown into some of those life skill moments at such an early age. How has it affected you think how you see yourself or have you felt more purposeful in who you are as an individual as a result of doing this work?
Olivia Brockhoff - That's a really good question. I've never actually thought about that before. Um, yeah, for sure. I do in some ways. I honestly I don't even know how to answer that.
Maria Fuller- So Something that is one of my beliefs and one of the missions behind the work that I do is that I think that today when we're looking at some of the struggles that girls are facing in terms of lower self esteem, low self confidence, a really huge rise in mental health issue, rising anxiety, depression, we're looking at a lot of instances where people label girl drama or girl bullying. I find that for a lot of girls, when when I've spoken to them, a lot of them feel like they don't matter. They feel like their voices aren't heard that they can't make change until they're older, that they are stuck with the same kind of groups. So like, yeah, they have school and they have activities within school, or maybe they play soccer with kids outside of school, but they're still stuck with those same age groups. And when you're, you're always with the same age group. It's almost like the same drama always carries along and what I've found is that Girls like yourself that have projects outside of school or doing work, especially work of service where you're giving to others, it has helped those girls find purpose within themselves and understanding that there's more to life more to that drama than those small circles that it oftentimes makes it easier for them to keep their self esteem high right to not be brought down because they have purpose, because there's more to what they're doing every day than what a typical, you know, teenage girl does every day. Does that make sense?
Olivia Brockhoff - Yeah, for sure. It definitel showed me the bigger picture of like, it's made me think not so much about myself. It's made me be more selfless because you think about what other people are going through and it's not Just the kids in the hospital, it's their families. It just gives you a look on other people and it shows you what you can do. And it does give you purpose. It shows you how you can be that person, it shows you how you can help out in the community and how you can turn something small into something big as long as you put your mind to it.
Maria Fuller- Yeah, totally. So I have a feeling that like kindness and generosity and doing for others is something that's really important to you and your values because I hear that you actually go around talking to kids about this.
Olivia Brockhoff - Yeah, I am. I love it so much. It's a big, big thing to me. I'm part of the lloydminster Youth Council. So that's where we put like events together for kids and stuff like that so you can get to know people more in your community. And we've done we did a presentation at one of the elementary schools about kindness anti bullying and stuff. And I'm part of our red cross program. So that's anti bullying. And we did a huge course on that. So now I get to go to present to more schools, which is crazy, because I already presented to schools with Project PJ. So it's so great. And every time I get the opportunity I, I really don't pass it up. And that's definitely, definitely a big thing in mind is Be kind to everybody and pass it around as much as you can.
Maria Fuller- I love that. So you are in grade 10. You have a few more years until you kind of Well no, they're probably going to start asking you soon. You know, the the dreaded question which I hate how people ask is What do you want to be when you grow up? I hate that question like that when asked. I actually ask people instead, I say What kind of impact you want to make on the world? How do you want to serve others? What's something that you want to fix? How do you want to make the world better? What are you thinking about doing? What do you love?
Olivia Brockhoff - I like that question. I liked it phrased that way A lot more. Um, yeah, a lot of people have been asking that since like, last year now. And I'm like, Oh my gosh, I don't know.There's so many options. But um, what I think I'm leaning towards two things. I want to be something in the medical field like a dentist or a doctor because that helps people. And I'm really interested in the human body and biology or the way the mind works. And I find that stuff just So cool. I have such passion for it. But on the other hand, I'm really into videography. Like big time, I'm doing the great course coming up this in this next semester after finals and for comm media, so that will be really cool. So it's like, my, it's such a big passion of mine. But I don't know if I should be applying to film school? I don't know. I'm just kind of like, I have no idea what I want to do with my life.
Maria Fuller- Yeah, and I think that's okay. I think definitely developing skills is important. There's so much that you can do which is actually really funny that you picked those two things because my background is actually in medicine and in health science. So that's what I studied. I was a critical care paramedic in New York, in New York City. And so I did inter facility transport so I brought patients from hospitals that didn't have the capabilities of caring for them, usually multi trauma patients or patients that needed specialized services like cardiac or neurosurgery or a NICU and stuff and brought them to my hospital. So usually very sick and I would try to stabilize them along the way. And then it's funny because then from there I was hurt on the job and my first my first company that I started was doing photography and it led me into doing videography, and everything is connected. What's really interesting and what I've learned is that medicine is very artistic. I've always felt like there's so much creativity in medicine and in science because the human body like we we really don't have a huge grasp on everything the human body does and you're looking at like trauma medicine or anything like that. You have to be very creative because no one injury is ever like the other so that part of my brain I love to use and it went so well with like like, like the photography and stuff I started making these connections of why they're like minded but you could totally do a degree in like health science or something like that. Learn video on the side and maybe go and do some really cool documentaries on like medical stuff. I mean, I don't know, like find a way to merge it together, You don't have to pick just one thing. You know what I mean? I think there's pressure these days to like have to pick one thing, when we should be thinking about, especially if we look at how education is moving forward and what employers are looking out of people. It's not really degrees, but it's a set of skills like skill set and background. So don't feel pressured to pick just one. See how you can meld all of your passions into an avenue to kind of focus on your studies and see what comes out of it and what sparks the most joy. If that makes sense.
Olivia Brockhoff - Yeah totally does cool.
Maria Fuller-We totally went on a tangent there. So the video that I saw that went viral that connected me to you. You did a little experiment. In your school, can you talk about that?
Olivia Brockhoff - Yeah, for sure. So it was my comm media class. We were doing this interactive media project. So basically, we got to make this Instagram page and we could do whatever we wanted, like, just let our creativity flow, have fun. And then we got marked on it. So the week we started this project in my class, we watched this video and it was people react to being called beautiful. And I was like, Oh, this is so sweet. I'd love to try this in my high school. And like two people I know and people I'm like, that are my peers. People. I don't know, but I'v seen the hallway. And so I approached my teacher, I was like, hey, would it be okay, if I use this in my Instagram project? She was like, Yeah, I think that would be so cool. I had no intention whatsoever for that many people to see it. I just wanted the people in the video to see it oo my teacher and I wanted them to feel good about themselves. And I wanted to show people that were following my interactive media Instagram page, how much your words can change, because that Instagram page that I created is all about positivity. And I still have it. And that's all I'm trying to do with it is Spread the Love. So, yeah,
Maria Fuller-So can you dive into a little bit more of like, behind the scenes of like, what this project entailed? Like, what did you do? What were the reactions? How did you set it up?
Olivia Brockhoff - For sure. So I took my phone, and I went around the school. And I'd be like, hey, um, if I didn't know them, I would tell them my name. I was like, Can I borrow you for a project? Can I take a picture of you? And they would be like, sure. And I'd be like, sweet, okay, follow me. And we would go somewhere where I was quiet, and I would start filming and I would be like, so the reason I wanted to take picture of us because I think you're beautiful and I wanted to capture all the different reactions and see how everybody felt about it. And it was just, it was so I didn't even have words for it when I was editing it. I started crying. I was there after school by myself and I just had tears rolling down my eyes. So I was watching some people cry. Some people laugh and awkwardly not know what to do feel uncomfortable. And the whole video just because it took so fine people and then put all the footage together. It probably took me 10 hours. But it was it was a really great experience to see how much because I didn't realize how much saying that could change somebody's day and I didn't realize how much people don't hear that because my parents told me every day that I'm beautiful my parents told me every day that I'm smart, but that that doesn't happen for everyone.
Maria Fuller –One thing that I noticed and I've spent a lot of time studying body language so like reading people's body language, and you could see in those videos and I watched the videos the first time with no sound on because I think I was in bed and I think it was at like 2am which is one of my insomnia moments scrolling because my brain was very busy and I was like, I gotta find some amazing girls to interview and this came up. So I was like watching it for the first time with no audio. And you could see I knew you said you had to have said something positive because you could see people's bodies. They're like standing there like rigid and tense and like uncomfortable and awkward and then all of a sudden you say it, and they're like, you see this whole shift of like, their bodies like relax and their shoulders come down in their faces soften in their eyes widen and they light up and it was like this complete transformation of the person when you do it, and I think it's so impactful to see that. Like, our words do matter, right and and you did it in a way where it's very positive and how the act of calling someone beautiful or saying to somebody I think you're amazing, right? without even having to put it on looks. I think you're amazing. I think you're, I think you're so strong, I think you're confident, I think you're awesome. Just hearing those words is so impactful. And then we can also think about how our words when we aren't saying kind things, you know, it's going to have the opposite effect. And I think it can teach us to be more intentional with the things we say but also being intentional in spreading that kindness, which is kind of what you are all about, with all the work that you do, right, taking that extra minute, you know, or not even minute, 30 seconds, if you're passing someone down the hallway that you don't even know and just look at them and say like, you're awesome, right? Like, just do that. Yeah, do that or a day you have the ability of changing that person's day for the better and you never know what people are going through. That might be the words that that one person needed. That day to hear if they were having a really tough time and I think that's what was so amazing was that that one little project that one moment that experience wasn't you having to start this huge company or huge nonprofit to make a difference it's that ripple effect that person how they felt maybe they'll go and spread spread that same love that same kindness to someone else and from that one action what trickles out to everyone else is pretty cool.
Olivia Brockhoff - Yeah, it's it's pretty insane because your your words can hurt so much, but yet, they can hear heal so much as well.