WHY HE’S TOP 40: Promotes awareness of youth issues from a youth perspective.
KEY TO SUCCESS: “If you’re starting something from nothing, you have to be totally consumed by that idea.’
Today , SOS Children’s Safety Magazine is distributed across Canada, with more than 180,000 copies printed in the last year alone. The quarterly magazine-meets-comic book, with many stories written by teens, takes on difficult issues like gang violence, cyber-bullying and teen pregnancy. But publisher Ted Halabi would never have started the magazine in 2002 — a youth himself, just 18 at the time — if he hadn’t felt the repercussions of those issues firsthand.
In junior high school, his friend fell in with a rough crowd. “By the time I was in Grade 9, he was killed right outside of his school,” Halabi says. “There were some heavy things going on, and there are still heavy things going on.”
The problem, as Halabi saw it, was that his peers simply weren’t prepared to receive the vital information already out there. “There was talking to your counsellor at school, or your parents, but if you didn’t feel comfortable talking about these issues, there was no way to get this information unless it was brought to you.”
The first issues of SOS were printed on newsprint and dealt with “softer” issues, like helmet safety. With zero experience in magazines (or business, really), Halabi experienced a steep learning curve. But, already, it was clear that this was more than a side project. Halabi skipped university in order to focus completely on the magazine, despite not breaking even for the first five years.
Now, Halabi uses his magazine’s profile to try to effect positive change from the ground up. SOS sponsors the public education seminars done by Sherwood Park’s sexual assault centre SAFFRON, as well as an annual $5,000 scholarship awarded to the student who submits the best essay about a proposed solution to teen violence. The essays are judged by the family of Josh Hunt, who died from knife wounds at a house party in 2006, and the best one also gets published in SOS.
For Halabi, who still plans to get a degree of some kind, tying the money to education is key. “I didn’t want to just write a cheque for a kid to go shopping, or throw a big party,” he says, cheekily adding, “They’re on the hook. That cheque is sent to them in their college’s name.”