Notre Dame graduate inspires students to create change


Ellen Kaas returned to her former stomping ground in Welland Monday to inspire Grade 12 students at Notre Dame College School to make a difference in the world.

Father Jim Mulligan, of Parish Community of St. Kevin, invited Kaas, who is a chartered accountant and works with not-for-profits and charities, to speak to Notre Dame students. Kaas agreed to share her experiences in hopes of motivating students to make a difference in the world.

While speaking to more than 50 students from the politics of peace, world issues and economics classes in the school’s theatre, Kaas explained how she and fellow students protested wearing kilts.

Kaas, who graduated in 1973, was one of many girls whose only uniform option was to wear a kilt — at that time girls weren’t allowed to wear pants even if it was cold and snowing. Kaas said she and a group of girls continued to wear pants despite constantly receiving detention. Eventually they were able to change school rules and girls were given the option to wear pants.

For Kaas, this was the first step toward living a life dedicated to social justice.

Once Kaas began articling to become an accountant, she was turned off by greed and an emphasis large corporations put on profit margins. For Kaas, it didn’t feel right working in a corporate environment, so she began working in social justice and youth leadership. She worked for two years before taking a break to have children.

When she returned to the workforce she decided to begin her own practice, offering accounting services to social justice and charitable organizations. Kaas said she offers a lower fee than most Toronto-based accounting firms to help organizations with their financial needs.

Kaas also serves on not-for-profit boards, including Peace Brigades International. Kaas said the organization works to protect human rights defenders, including lawyers and journalists. She said the work the organization does is important because it provide a safe haven for people who are uncovering global injustices.

Kaas’s advice to students was to talk about what’s happening in the world and find like-minded people. By joining forces with others who are interested in similar issues, Kaas said, people can make a difference.

She said she also wants people to remember not only big changes, but also small ones. Even if it’s convincing a school board to allow girls to wear pants, Kaas said it’s something and it makes a difference.