How The Maddie Project embraced running to make a difference with youth mental health

On April 11, 2015, Madeline German Coulter, 15, took her own life after grappling with mental health challenges. She was the first child and only daughter of Nicole German. Maddie’s death tore through the family, but where most parents might crumble, spiralling into depression themselves, German rallied, founding The Maddie Project, a charitable organization.

“The organization is really focused on two primary areas,” German says. “One is around creating awareness to reduce the stigma around youth mental health. And the second is helping to provide uninhibited access to kids and their families who are struggling with mental health challenges.” These mental health challenges include anything from depression and anxiety to eating disorders and psychosis.

Since its foundation, The Maddie Project’s main goal has been raising funds for the North York General Hospital Foundation where Maddie spent some time while suffering from depression. German pledged to raise $1 million for the foundation that would go towards the creation of Maddie’s Healing Garden. The outdoor space surrounds Phillips House, a re-developed Georgian-style mansion located up the street from the hospital that acts as the home for child and adolescent outpatient mental health programs.

Six months after Maddie’s death, German and The Maddie Project committed to entering the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. “People just wanted to do a run to raise money and awareness,” she says. But since then, it’s become one of the organization’s major fundraising and awareness events. The run now sees upwards of 100 participants of all ages competing in the 5km to the marathon, supporting The Maddie Project.

“There’s nothing more compelling than a bunch of teenagers getting up at 7 a.m. to advocate for youth mental health. It’s hard enough to get them out of bed as is.” German laughs.

Phillips House and Maddie’s Garden were officially opened on September 4, 2019, thanks to the $1.6 million The Maddie Project has raised over the last four years—and $320,000 of this was raised during the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. “This is our fifth year doing it,” German says.

The Maddie Project’s fundraising goal this year is $50,000, but German is quick to mention that “the awareness is as important as the fundraising.” Each participant running for The Maddie Project will proudly wear a purple shirt and will be led by team captain Robert Agouri, one of the organization’s top individual fundraisers.

Even Maddie’s two younger brothers, Zac and Sawyer Coulter, participate in the run, acting as the organization’s national youth ambassadors.

Now that Maddie’s Healing Garden is operational, The Maddie Project will continue to raise money for the North York General Hospital Foundation, and has also established fundraising partnerships with Skylark Youth and Families, and Outward Bound Canada.

The Maddie Project has funded over $200,000 to Skylark Youth and Families, a walk-in clinic that doesn’t require an appointment or a health card, and launched their partnership with Outward Bound Canada this year. “It’s a fully-funded trip for eight young women that had struggled with mental health,” German says. The trip allows participants to experience the great outdoors in northern Ontario near Sudbury.

Looking to the future, German says The Maddie Project will continue to support and nurture those partnerships and youth in the community. “I think, for us, it’s really about continuing the conversation.”