team 1 draw

Author: Ryan Wood

Date: September 7th, 2023

team 2 draw

Author: Ryan Wood


Kyle: Turning my life around after a DUI

Empathy is essential for positive mental health because it allows us to develop stronger relationships with others and cultivate a sense of compassion and understanding.

Empathy helps us to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and experience their feelings, thoughts or attitudes. But it’s not just about understanding someone else’s perspective, it’s also about understanding our own feelings, leading to increased self-awareness and a greater sense of well-being.

Exploring empathy does not undo or make right what someone has done, but when we are intentional about having empathy, we can choose to show compassion over judgment. In a world so deeply divided, we need to be able to listen to each other and connect.

Here’s how Kyle’s experience with empathy has improved his mental well-being.

Kyle Cheesman

Have you ever royally messed up? Like you wake up in the morning and you think, “Thank God it was just a dream!” until you realize it wasn’t.

I remember sitting in a jail cell. The worst part was I still had to call my mom and tell her where I am. I’ve never had a father around, so she was it. She was all I ever had. I didn’t want to put her through this; I didn’t want to disappoint her.

My Mom is my Hero. She literally saved my life.

My mother’s unwavering support

When I was five years old, we went to this place called Kakabeka Falls outside of Thunder Bay, Ontario. It’s a beautiful place with a beach and a waterfall. When we got to the beach, my mom stood next to me pointing out the buoys in the water that marked out the boundaries and explaining the dangers of the undertow that can pull you into the water.

As I stepped into the water, I remember feeling the mushy sand in-between my toes and the cold wave rippling under my arms as I began to jump up and down in the waist-high water. My mom told me not to jump too far, but I was in my own world.

I was jumping along, shuffling forward with each jump when all of a sudden, the ocean’s floor was no longer beneath me. I quickly caught one last breath before I went under and immediately began to panic. I started swallowing water almost instantly as I tried to frantically reach up for air.

Eventually, a sense of calm came over me as I stared up at the surface of the water looking at the way the sun rippled on top of the water. My vision began to close in and I could feel my heart slowing to a stop.

Then in what felt like a blink, I woke up on the beach in my mother’s arms, wrenching and coughing all the water left in my lungs. My vision slowly coming back and my hearing becoming clearer as Mom patted my back and reassured me, “It’s going to be OK, it’s going to be OK.”

This whole event took place in under a minute or 2, and she would never see herself as a hero in this story, but I do.

I never doubted if my mom was going to be there for me when I needed her the most.

There was this one point in time shortly after high school when I was working in a mine and going to the gym a lot. I started to notice my left ankle was hurting. Months go by and I ignored it until I couldn’t anymore. The next thing I know, my back began seizing up at random times, and when I went to get the doctor’s opinion, they kept telling me that I was young and to make sure I was stretching often. That it should fix itself. Instead, it just kept getting worse.

I remember the feeling of collapsing on the stairs and tumbling to the bottom, unable to stand, reaching up to the railing trying to pull myself up but failing over and over. It turns out I had a collapsed disk in my lower back and it was resting on a nerve.

At my lowest point, I was pretty much bedridden; I couldn’t even get myself up in the morning. My mom would go to work at 7 a.m. and come back home at 8:30 a.m. so she could help me out of bed and get me started on my day. My mom was cooking for me, cleaning for me, taking me to doctor’s appointments, and advocating for me to get the help I needed. I felt like I was a small child again unable to care for myself. It was my mom who carried me through that entire season right up until I got the back surgery. Throughout that entire time, I always knew that the pain I felt wasn’t just mine, but hers too.

How kindness and empathy changed my life

This is why it killed me when I had to pick up the phone that morning at the police station. After fingerprints, mugshots and standing in a cold cell for over 7 hours, I finally called her to tell her that I got a DUI and that she needed to find a way to work because her SUV was impounded.

I was broken, ashamed and angry.

I wanted to blame drinking and driving on friends and on peer-pressure, but I knew I was the only one to blame. At that moment, sitting there on the phone, I hated myself and I projected all that self-hatred onto my mom and said things I didn’t mean and I wish I could take back.

I felt as though I was now a criminal, and for the rest of my life, that’s all anyone would be able to see.

I remember the first real conversation my mom and I had after I was released from the holding cell. She gave me space to apologize, to talk through my fears and the pain of my failure. We stood there in the kitchen and she just hugged me while I cried.

My mom never saw me as a criminal. She saw me just as I was: A kid who really messed up and just needed a hug. She showed me what real kindness and empathy looked like.

She told me, “I know growing up without a dad has been hard, but it’s time for you to step up and take control of your own life.” And that’s exactly what I have been able to do.

Now it’s my turn to be the one who extends a hand to someone who is hurting or gives a hug to someone who feels broken, just like my mom did for me.

A couple of weeks after the DUI, I got a book for Christmas called How to get out of your own way by Tyrese Gibson. This book changed my life. At one point in the book the author says, “I have learned to surround myself with people who are the things I want to become, at some point I will become them.”

You need to surround yourself with kindness and empathy to become kind and empathetic. And for me, that started with my mom.

Learn more

Mental health is an ongoing journey and it is important to make sure that we all take the time to check in with ourselves, our loved ones and our mental well-being.

LiveDifferent Circles equips young people with the skills and tools needed to build positive mental health. Through conversations on authenticity, empathy, growth, resilience, altruism and values, youth develop the self-confidence to deal with the issues they’re facing and take positive action in their communities.

Want to join people like Kyle and help youth across Canada build positive mental health? Become a Road Team Volunteer! Want to learn more about Circles and how it can make a difference in your community? See how LiveDifferent can help!

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: May 15th, 2023

Boston Pizza and LiveDifferent Love Making a Difference

Do you love pizza and love to do a little good for the world at the same time? Check out the Boston Pizza Foundation’s Kids Cards! From now until October 31, the sale of BP Kids Cards will be benefitting charities across Canada, and LiveDifferent is one of the charities that are going to feel the love!

The Boston Pizza Foundation is charity partners with many amazing organizations across Canada, including Big Brothers and Big Sisters, JDRF, Kids Help Phone and LiveDifferent. The foundation also helps to support and sustain a host of regional and local efforts across Canada. 

LiveDifferent is proud to partner with the people at the Boston Pizza Foundation and we are proud of all that we are accomplishing together. During the month of October, for a minimum donation of $5 to the Kids Cards, you will receive 5 free kids meals.

Heck, at that price, why not take the neighbourhood out for a little Boston Pizza and help LiveDifferent in the process?




Author: LiveDifferent

Date: October 11th, 2013

Rain, Waves, Sunshine and Song in the D.R.

It’s hard to believe you can pack so much into 48 hours – but we have!
We have done it all: worked in the rain wearing garbage bags, sweat in the sun as we flung cement at the walls of the house we are smooth coating, sang as we worked and played baseball in a field dodging cow pies as we ran around the bases, and bobbed in the waves of the ocean. This is the life!
Our Hero Holiday D.R. team has been packing each day full of adventure. But more than that, we have been a part of something that is bringing hope and change to a family and community that is inspiring us to return home changed.
The Martinez family in Arroyo Seco will never be the same because of the new home that they are about to move in to at the end of our time with them.  But the people who have joined us here to make it all possible will never be the same either. Each of us, whether we are the ones giving or the ones receiving, recognize the incredible power of working together to see a dream come to pass.
So to all of you in Canada that are preparing to ring in the New Year, here is our wish to you: make 2012 the year that each of us chooses to ‘LiveDifferent”!

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: December 30th, 2011

The last message

Yep, it’s true. This is probably the last time you will hear from LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute). But it’s not because we are falling off the map – it’s because we have an exciting announcement about what we have been up to!

Click here to view the video in youtube

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: December 1st, 2011

4 Reasons to book your Hero Holiday before Dec 31st

Here are 4 reasons to register online for a Hero Holiday before December 31

1. Reserve your spot – some trips are filling quickly! Register online and pay* your initial $300 to secure a spot on your selected trip. Good news: You are now able to both apply AND donate online for Hero Holiday trips!

2. Early-bird pricing*. With increasing travel costs, there is a possibility that prices* for trips could be slightly increased in 2012. As soon as you register and send your initial $300, current pricing* will be honoured. This pricing* offer is good until December 31, 2011.

3. Don’t miss 2011 Tax Refunds! Apply now so you can start fundraising before year-end – or request donations instead of Christmas gifts. Anyone that donates before December 31 will receive a tax receipt they can claim on their 2011 taxes. For example, if a donor gives $2000 before Dec 31, they could get back about a $1000 refund in income taxes as early as the middle of March (and then they will have more money to donate again  )

4. Because there is no experience out there like a Hero Holiday! Simply put, we have the best experience AND the lowest price*. Hundreds of volunteers complete our exit survey at the end of their Hero Holiday experience and 100% of those same volunteers have told us through that survey that they would recommend their Hero Holiday trip to others! Many volunteer travel companies exist for profit – but we are not a travel company. We are a registered non-profit charitable organization providing sustainable, tangible projects meeting real needs (ex. building homes for families) while giving volunteers the highest quality and most life changing experience possible.


Register Now!


  • By “price” we really mean the “minimum individual fundraising goal” for each trip, as Hero Holiday is a charitable volunteer program, and not a consumer/for-profit travel service.

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: November 19th, 2011

Rain? Schmain…

jennifer-4.jpgSome people have great smiles because they have dazzling teeth, and some have teeth that make me cringe – yet I love to see them smile because of how it transforms their face. Some people possess smiles that are not won easily, and when you finally receive one from them it is like a personal victory. Others seem to have a perma-grin that almost makes you wonder what in the world they are thinking! Some people only smile with their mouths, and others smile with their eyes and it is like a window into their soul. Personally, my favourite smiles are the ones that make the corners of someone’s eyes crinkle up and remind you that there is a lot of history behind that smile – and the very thought is enough to spark my curiosity to want to find out more about them.

jennifer.jpgWhen we picked their family as one of the families we wanted to build for, it was hard to ignore Jennifer’s smile – it spoke volumes to all of us. Jennifer is only 20 years old, but she has the kind of smile that reminds you there is a lot of hard-won history behind it. In fact, her smile is more than a welcome invitation to friendship; it is an invitation into her world. And for many of us, her world is hard to imagine.

This summer we built a house for Jennifer, her husband, Juan de Jésus, and their two young children. Their previous living conditions were deplorable: flimsy walls built from crates and other expendable material, a roof with massive holes that were rusted through and the continual exposure to flooding and the elements. Every time it rained, their children, aged 2 years and 10 months got wet, and Jennifer and Juan would cover them with their own bodies to keep them from getting too chilled while they slept. But in the end, the bottom line for their family was that without outside help, this is about as good as life would get.

jennifer-2.jpgOne day, about half way through the project I was finally able to come and visit the Hero Holiday team and meet Jennifer’s family. Jennifer was up to her elbows alongside of our team as they worked at the concrete blocks that made up her walls. I had the privilege to sit for a moment and chat with Jennifer about what this house was going to mean for her. What she said surprised me a little. She told me that she was excited that her kids would be safe and dry and that they would have the security that the home would bring. But she also told me about what she was the most excited about: sharing her new home with her family and friends. She told me that she has always dreamed of hosting people in her home and she has never had a home that was fit enough to even sit inside, let alone have company in. This home was giving her a dignity that I hadn’t even considered before: the dignity of having the opportunity to offer something to someone else.

jennifer-3.jpgOn the last day of our time with her family, we had our house dedication celebration. It poured rain and the muddy streets outside of her home were slick from the runoff. But we were inside her house, waiting for the others to arrive. There were about 5 Canadians, 20 neighbours and Jennifer’s family, squished shoulder to shoulder in her kitchen. The rain made it hard to hear anything between the echo off the roof and the chatter of excitement of everyone inside those four walls. But I caught what Jennifer said in reply to my comment about how much rain there was.

Her smile spread across her face, infused with pure joy. “Yes, there is lots of rain. But we can smile now when it’s raining!”

Yes, actually, you are right. You can – and it is our honour to know that together, we somehow helped to make that happen. Rain, schmain, right?

To find out more about LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute)’s Hero Holidays in Dominican Republic, Mexico, Thailand and Haiti, check out

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: August 2nd, 2011

A Gift From Me to You

When I first heard the news, I remember what one affected teenager was quoted as saying: “It all happened so fast. I feel lost, misplaced. They can’t bring our town back.” It turned out to be true.

a-gift-from-me-to-you.jpgWhen the residents of Slave Lake, Alberta went to bed one Saturday night in May, many of them were concerned about the forest fires that were burning just south of their town. But their minds were put at ease by the local police and authorities who assured them that there was no danger. When they woke Sunday, they were told there was still no need to evacuate – and they were sent to local Walmart and Canadian Tire parking lots in town to wait it out. But by Sunday night, that proved to be very wrong, as 40% of the town had been consumed by the fire, leaving hundreds of families homeless and in total shock.

Georgia and Aidan’s family was one of them.

However, along with Gabrielle, another friend from their town, they still managed to show up in Toronto this summer, ready to depart for a Hero Holiday in Dominican Republic. Together with all of the other Hero Holiday participants that met there, they had made a decision to do something meaningful with their summer vacation: they were going to build a house for a family that needed it in a tiny port community tucked inside Puerto Plata. And they did. In fact, they built a house that is now home to 7 people: four adults and three babies.

a-gift-from-me-to-you-3.jpgBuilding a house for someone else at your own expense in terms of time, money, and energy is a noble feat. But, builiding a home for someone on the other side of the world when you have just lost your own family home is an undeniable expression of character and passion. When I sat down with the three of them and heard their stories, as they spoke about the drastic changes in their community and what it was like to live through such a shocking experience, the three of them were in total agreement: they couldn’t not do this. They had made a commitment to travel halfway across the world to help a family that desperately needed a home, a circumstance which now seemed all the more real to them, and they had every intention of following through on what they’d set out to do.

a-gift-from-me-to-you-2.jpgThere was something one more thing that impressed me about them that has left a mark on my heart. It was about more than the fact that they joined us this summer despite what they were in the middle of. It was about their level of passion to see past what they knew as reality, and to believe that they were capable of making a difference for someone else – even when it was not convenient for them. People like Georgia, Aidan and Gabrielle make us proud to be able to do what we do every day: work and bring hope and change alongside of unsung heroes who deserve to be thanked for their simple acts of bravery. Their bravery to keep going and to reach out to others is their gift to the world around them. And that will never go unnoticed.

Want to join us on a Hero Holiday? Check out

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: July 25th, 2011

Openings for bands on Absolute’s School Tours

Band at LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute) ShowLiveDifferent (formerly Absolute) is accepting applications for performing artists to tour with our Think Day presentations during our Fall 2011 tours and our Spring 2012 tours. This is an incredible opportunity for up-and-coming bands that have what it takes to rock out in front of tens of thousands of high school students. Some of the bands that we’ve worked with in years past include: Hollowick (Rides Again), All Left Out, Hundredfold, Kiros, Hello Kelly, The Ocean Buried, and Tonight Tonight (Beauti). This is what we are looking for in a band:

  • Message, lyrics, and lifestyle are consistent with LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute)’s positive and school-friendly message. If you sing about and/or promote sex, drugs, and alcohol, this is not your gig. Profanities in your lyrics also won’t get you many points.
  • Good sound that appeals fairly broadly to a high school auidence
  • Professionalism in image, merchandise, and album production
  • Good work ethic and attitude.

If you are interested in applying, please see our internship page

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: July 18th, 2011