Honour a change-maker who inspires you through their positive contributions to their communities and the world.
Excerpted from our media partner Canadian Living. Read the full article here.
“There are First Nations communities that don’t have clean drinking water. Kids, elders and youth—all those people can’t drink the water,” says Autumn Peltier, who has become an environmental conservation advocate in her community and beyond. She knows that a world without water is no world at all. “Water is everything. It’s the lifeblood of Mother Earth. It brings new life,” she says. That’s why she’s been speaking publicly—to everyone from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to the kids at her school—to advocate for healthy water. Last fall, she even represented Canada at the Children’s Climate Conference in Sweden, where children gathered to create a list of demands for world leaders in advance of the Paris UN Climate Change Conference. When Autumn’s not giving talks about our lakes and rivers, she’s participating in shoreline and community cleanups, getting rid of garbage that litters the nature around her. The goal is to make the world a better place for kids who come after her. “I want to be a role model for my kids and my grandchildren,” says Autumn.
Five years ago, Daniel and his older brother, Nick, saw a kid about their age sitting outside the local grocery store asking for food. “We knew we had to do something, but we didn’t know what,” says Daniel. He and his brother began approaching local organizations and food banks to find out how they could help but were told they were too young—that is, until they approached the Peel District School Board. A social worker with the board, Jim Van Buskirk, helped them come up with the idea of giving grocery gift cards to families in need. By the following year, 2012, they had set up a registered charity called Two Kids for Change. In all, they’ve raised $23,000 toward grocery gift cards. School board social workers distribute the cards to needy families so the recipients remain anonymous to the charity, but Daniel has received letters from families explaining that some of them have been through cancer, car accidents or addictions. “Even though we never got to actually meet the families, we got to read their stories, and I think that’s enough to keep Nick and me motivated,” he says.
Xavier West had listened intently as public speaker and WE Charity cofounder Craig Kielburger told a story about a visit to Brazil. Kielburger recalled being invited to play a game of soccer with a group of local kids: When the kids went to get the “ball,” they returned with a discarded water bottle. The story struck a chord with Xavier, who was 10 at the time. That Christmas, instead of asking for toys, Xavier asked Santa to deliver a goat to a needy family. And when he learned that WE Charity could build a new school in Kenya for $8,500, he set his sights on raising the money. “I get a lot out of education, and I feel that other kids should have education as well,” he says. It took four years, but Xavier finally raised enough money to build a school. But that wasn’t the end of his work. This past summer, Xavier’s grandfather rewarded him with a ME to WE family trip to Kenya. He travelled with his mother, sister and grandmother to help build a WE Charity school, and he saw the impact of his work. “The idea isn’t a handout but a hand up—they’re trying to create a sustainable community,” he says. “I was really honoured to be there with them.”
You might not find students sitting quietly at desks in Keri Albert’s classroom, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t learning. Keri’s class moves between a chapel, a garden and a meeting room, while her students—who range in age from 10 to 90 years old (and beyond!)—study math, science and reading, often while playing games, listening to visitors or doing hands-on activities. It’s a program called iGen, an intergenerational classroom that offers Grade 6 students the opportunity to learn alongside elders at the Sherbrooke Community Centre in Saskatoon. Keri got the idea for iGen while studying alternative education models as part of her master of education program. She partnered with the Sherbrooke Community Centre to develop a program that would benefit both kids and elders, and launched the first iGen class in 2014. “The children learn to have friendships with people of all ages and all abilities,” says Keri. And the elders? “They say the kids bring them energy. They bring variety and spontaneity into their lives, and give them new and exciting things to think about.” Keri hopes others in Canada and around the world will see this model and venture to try something similar in their own schools. “Be courageous,” she says. “I have learned that things seem really complicated, but being somebody who can effect change in the world is very simple.”
Victoria Stosky has devoted much of her university career to empowering former sex-trade workers to become financially independent through education, job skills and money management—but she doesn’t see it as giving back. “We’re part of the same world and should be given equal opportunities,” says the business student and soon-to-be university grad. Victoria helps lead a program called EmpowerU, an initiative of Enactus, the world’s largest student-run international nonprofit organization, which seeks to create sustainable change through entrepreneurship. She is currently a copresident of the Enactus team at Calgary’s Mount Royal University and says being part of the organization has been just as beneficial for her as it has been for the women whose lives she has helped turn around. Many women complete EmpowerU, and some even apply to, and are accepted into, a school program. “For those women, they finally see their impossible dreams as a reality. It’s like a light at the end of the tunnel,” she says. And for her, it’s a chance to put her major in human resources and minors in entrepreneurship and social innovation to immediate good use. She’s developed her leadership skills and made both friends and professional connections. But, “most of all, it’s about following my passion,” she says.
Tenille Nadkrynechny’s whole worldview changed when she came across a pamphlet for Sunrise House, a youth shelter in her hometown of Grande Prairie, Alta. “I had no idea that youth in our community were sleeping in a shelter every night. It shocked me,” she says. Tenille, who was 15 at the time, had always loved to sing and had started playing guitar the year before. So she decided to gather some friends for a concert, going door-to-door for sponsors and donating the proceeds to the Grande Prairie Youth Emergency Shelter Society, the organization that runs the city’s shelters; she called it Big Hearts for Big Kids. Unfortunately, on the day of the event, the shelter director came to Tenille distraught because Sunrise House was shutting down immediately due to lack of funding. But they didn’t lose hope; instead, Tenille and her friends went ahead with the event and raised $30,000. They did it all over again the next year, and within a year and a half, the youth shelter was renovated and running again, due in large part to the money and awareness raised by the concerts. Today, Big Hearts for Big Kids has raised $1 million. Not only has the annual event benefited the hundreds of kids who rely on the shelter but it has also helped unite the Grande Prairie community. “It has completely shaped my life and given me so much perspective to witness what the power of people coming together can do.”
Step inside the Jake’s House annual Christmas/holiday party in Toronto and you’ll find kids jumping in bouncy castles, smiling faces being painted with festive designs, billows of cotton candy being devoured and a jolly Santa handing out gift-wrapped boxes. It’s a child’s dream come true, and for the hundreds of autistic children in attendance, it’s an experience that might not happen if it weren’t for the Bodanis family and the volunteers who help run Jake’s House, a charity aimed at supporting autistic kids and their families. David and Irene Bodanis, who have two autistic boys of their own—Jake and Jonathan—began hosting the party in 2004 after realizing that most autistic kids don’t get invited to parties. The first year, they hosted 25 kids and their families, paying for gifts and food themselves. As the party has grown, they and their eldest son, James, have held fundraising events, such as runs and golf tournaments, throughout the year and enlisted volunteers to help run activities and dish up food when the big day arrives. Last year, 353 kids (alongside their parents and siblings) attended. The Bodanis family has been overjoyed at the way the community has embraced their organization. They’re in talks to partner with Big Brothers Big Sisters, a move that would offer social connections to the kids and support to the families on a more regular basis. The new program, called the Legends Program, seeks to pair autistic children with young mentors. David says the program would help kids develop friendships, be included in activities and have an advocate who can help them communicate. Today, Jake’s House has become much more than a family endeavour. “Irene and I could have helped maybe three or four families ourselves,” says David. “Now that we have thousands of volunteers, we can help thousands of families. It’s become an organization for the community, supported by the community. And we’re just part of it.”
Faith’s motto is that “everyone deserves a cuddle!” At age nine, she created her own charity called Cuddles for Cancer, after hearing that cancer patients often get cold during their treatments. She fundraises to hand-make fleece “cuddle blankets” to give these patients, hoping it will bring them warmth, comfort and love. Faith also makes blankets for Canadian soldiers who are serving overseas or who have returned home injured or suffering from PTSD. To date, Faith has raised more than $15,000 to make more than 700 “cuddle blankets” which have been sent across Canada, the U.S., France, the UK, Australia, Afghanistan and Kuwait.
When Stephen was six years old, he found out that there were children his own age in Calgary who would be spending the holidays in a homeless shelter, and probably wouldn’t receive any gifts. He asked his parents to help him fill backpacks with toys and warm clothing. It was the start of a charity called Stephen’s Backpacks. Today, Stephen is 14 and the charity has delivered more than 3,000 backpacks to organizations in Alberta and Saskatchewan that are focused on homelessness. Speaking in public about all his efforts isn’t easy for Stephen because he has autism and a speech delay, but Stephen is determined to make a difference. He has spoken at schools, organizations and to the media across Canada, encouraging other children to get involved with his cause.
No issue is too small for 12-year-old Nikayla. She’s always looking for ways to make the world a better place. As one of the six founders of her school’s “Do Good” committee, Nikayla has now helped inspire more than 60 fellow students to help make a difference. The group’s causes include anti-bullying and spreading compassion in their school, collecting non-perishable food through WE Charity’s WE Scare Hunger campaign, raising funds to build a school overseas, starting a community garden — and more! The school’s focus is “Compassion and Belonging” and Nikayla even started a school newspaper to help promote the cause and inspire her peers. Along with her classmates, Nikayla won a Youth Achievement Award in recognition of the positive impact they’ve made on their school, community and the world.
Christine Magill is a math teacher who understands the equation for world change includes multiple small actions that make a big difference. After visiting the Gacaca courts to learn about the justice and reconciliation process in Rwanda, she brought her passion for advocating for human rights to the classroom, where she continues to inspire students to become active global citizens through lessons and speeches from genocide survivors. Currently, Christine is working with the Rwandan Canadian Society of Calgary on a commemoration event and book documenting survivor stories. Thanks to her efforts spearheading the ME to WE Club at Strathmore High School, over $20,000 has been raised through concerts, auctions, WE Charity’s WE Are Silent campaign, and more. This summer, Christine will travel to Uganda with the Professional Pilot Project in Masulita, working with the Ugandan Teacher’s Union, the Uganda Women’s Effort to Save Orphans and Masulita Children’s Village. Next year, she’s taking her students on a ME to WE Trip to Nicaragua, which she hopes will inspire them to be as passionate about global causes as she is.
You’d think Paige Glazier wouldn’t like the colour orange. It was the colour of the graffiti spray painted on the exterior of her school, calling her obscene names. Now, it’s the name of her anti-bullying organization, Team Orange. Paige has become a community icon, speaking to local schools about practical ways to survive bullying through positive actions and building resilience. Team Orange is so effective that it’s been adopted by the Surrey School District #36 in BC. Paige has spoken at International Women’s Day, was part of WE Day Vancouver and completed the White Rock Youth Ambassador Program, designed to foster future community leaders through networking and mentorship. She also went on to participate in the BC Ambassador Program to promote Team Orange provincially. Collaborating with her grandfather, Paige developed an app with information and links to help, sold T-shirts and orange bracelets and continues to speak publicly about pro-social behaviour.
Tysen Lefebvre had his first surgery at nine days old and since then, has endured over 20. While diagnosed with Pfeiffer Syndrome Type 2, a rare genetic disorder that affects bone growth in the face, hands and feet, this unstoppable 14-year-old lives by the motto “dream big or go home.” Since meeting Adam Sandler through the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Tysen has made it his mission to grant the wishes of 100 more kids by raising $1 million. At just one year into his five-year campaign, he’s raised $200,000 through his website www.missiontoamillion.ca, where he also encourages others to do more fundraising on his behalf. Tysen organizes events including a gala called 4 Wishes, where kids who would normally not qualify for a wish get to enjoy a day of fun. Additional fundraising efforts include selling T-shirts, leashes and dog collars with his campaign logo and speaking at local hospitals and sports organizations.
It started with a dinner table conversation, a spark of an idea and a hand-written flyer—and grew into 90,000 pounds of food donated over more than six years to a local food bank.
Sarah Jordan was just five years old when, at dinner one evening, she told her mom she was full, even though there was food left on her plate. Her mom told her that there were people in their own community who didn’t have enough to eat, and their family was fortunate that they did. Minutes later, Sarah happened to hear an ad on the radio for a Thanksgiving food drive. Right away, she asked what she could do to help—and Sarah’s Food Drive was born. She set out to collect donations from her neighbours, and gathered 300 pounds of food. In the following years, Sarah got her daycare involved, then her school, then local businesses and other area schools. She also started putting together holiday hampers for families in need. Today, Sarah’s Food Drive even has local schools and businesses taking part in challenges to collect the most food. Each year, Sarah continues to spread the word about local hunger, inspiring more and more people to join her cause—driven by the fact that though she is just one person, a simple act of asking for a few food donations has turned into a movement for change.
Fighting stigma takes an especially strong person. When it comes to stigma associated with epilepsy, many are unaware of how it effects youth at school. Imagine suddenly experiencing a seizure in front of your entire class and being rushed to a hospital by ambulance. Many students are unaware of symptoms and what to do if it happens to a peer.
Caitlin Shaw decided to change youth attitudes towards epilepsy and created Sandpaper Smiles (www.sandpapersmiles.org), a website where she posted videos and blogs about her own struggles with the disorder. Her friend Daniel joined the cause and the two began recruiting other teens to form the Epilepsy Awareness Squad. From fundraising to speaking at community events and farmer’s markets in the Okanagan, the team is now working with a middle school leadership group to inspire others to establish their own campaigns.
Caitlin’s blog has experienced a number of visitors from around the world, including the UK and local media has also spread awareness about her efforts. She was also chosen to sit on BC’s Healthy Living Youth Council and to represent the Centre for Epilepsy Education at Teenfest Fraser Valley and Teenfest Vancouver with Daniel in 2014.
Nothing can deter Amilya Ladak. Inspired to organize a mini WE Day at her school, Sentinel Secondary, the unstoppable force was determined to raise awareness of global issues and motivate others to make a difference. After organizing rehearsals, writing scripts and finding motivational speakers, her tireless efforts were suddenly brought to a halt. One week before the event, ticket sales were low, the featured performer cancelled and the ME to WE Club she led was considering calling the whole thing off.
Summoning her positive attitude, Amilya came up with brilliant strategies to sell tickets, reached out to sponsors, increased advertising and found two new singers. The event was not only saved, but became a resounding success and was featured in the local newspaper. All of the $2,000 raised that day went directly to the club’s school in the village of Ngosusani, Kenya.
Thanks to Amilya, the ME to WE Club has been victorious helping others every year of her high school career. From coin drives and bake sales to food drives and other initiatives, her unwavering commitment and excellent management skills have propelled the group in assisting a local food bank and many other community causes.
In many parts of the world, education is a luxury. After a life-changing trip to Kenya and Tanzania with Canada World Youth, Dave Cuddy vowed to make it more accessible to the children he met. An educator at Strathcona Park Lodge Outdoor Education Centre, he knew he wanted to use his talents to not only help them but also encourage local youth to volunteer and get involved.
With two of his Kenyan friends, Dave established Education is Power in 2008, an organization that raises funds for high school and university tuition fees for youth in Kenya and Tanzania. It also aims to improve the situation in two primary schools in Kenya. University students are selected based on their volunteering and senior university students mentor high school students on the benefits of volunteering.
Education is Power currently helps 35 students receive the education they deserve. Youth at home are also heavily involved in this incredible cause. The organization has inspired a number of Canadian schools to initiate their own fundraisers including those in Vancouver, Victoria, Campbell River and Haliburton.
Mackenzie Murphy is determined both to fight bullying in her community in Alberta and across Canada, and to break the stigma on mental health. Her journey began after she attempted to take her own life at age 12, after years of torment and bullying. While recovering in the hospital, she decided enough was enough. She arranged a meeting with her mayor, and after nine long months of campaigning, succeeded in getting an anti-bullying bylaw passed in her hometown of Airdrie, Alberta. She has also answered more than 500 Facebook messages and emails from kids around the world, telling them to stay strong and keep fighting. In 2014, she spoke at Pink Shirt Day, spreading a message that no one is perfect and we all face challenges, but those challenges make us stronger and better.
Kealey Clarke dreams of living in a world where no family has to hear the words “your child has cancer.”
After losing a close friend to leukemia at the age of 17, after a six-year battle, Kealey turned this personal tragedy into a mission of hope to change the story for others. She has raised more than $65,000 for childhood cancer research and participated in more than 100 events to raise funds and awareness, including an annual charity cycling event she initiated called Inside Ride. Kealey has also volunteered more than 750 hours for causes related to pediatric cancer, including as a counsellor at a camp for children impacted by cancer. In 2014, Kealey began training as a pediatric oncology nurse, so she can personally make a difference on the front lines.
Sarah Lewis dreams of changing the world…one pair of socks at a time.
When she was seven, Sarah visited a homeless shelter in Windsor, where she met a man named Joe. In her kind and sincere manner, she asked him what else he needed. Joe replied, “socks.” And that one interaction was enough to give her passion a firm direction.
Sarah started a campaign called “Socks Warm Your Heart,” to collect socks for people in need. Over the last six years, she has been working to raise funds and awareness about homelessness through garage sales, lemonade and popcorn sales and even asks for socks for her birthday and during Christmas. She appealed to local businesses, spoken at school assemblies and at a university public health forum.
So far, Sarah has collected and donated 7,500 pairs of socks, along with thousands of dollars in cash to keep the shelter open. She has appealed to local businesses and spoken at school assemblies and a university public health forum.
She continues her crusade to make homelessness history in her community.
Lola Flomen, 16, has been described as having “community service in her DNA.”
Since the age of seven, Lola has sponsored a child in Malawi, volunteered at a rehabilitation centre for special needs children and organized community garage sales for the Montréal Children’s Hospital. During her Bat Mitvah, she requested donations for the Jewish General Hospital, in lieu of gifts, and raised $35,000.
Her community service adventures have taken her overseas to places like South Africa, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic. Her travels have inspired her to continue her work both at home and overseas. In the past few years, Lola has raised funds for school-building as well as water and sanitation projects.
Lola has also travelled on a service trip to Thailand and on a ME to WE Trip to Kenya. She has inspired many of her peers as well as her teachers to continue their community service.
When Jasmine Kassam talks about her passion for changing the world, most can’t help feeling inspired.
Jasmine has been a steadfast supporter of WE Charity since high school, participating in every WE Charity campaign throughout the four years of high school. She led the Calgary Mobilizers, and was eventually asked to be the MOB lead for all of Alberta. Jasmine’s astute leadership led to a strong network of Mobilizers throughout the province.
Now in university, Jasmine continues to advocate tirelessly for issues like girls’ education, food security, access to clean water and more. In 2011, Jasmine fundraised for a ME to WE trip to Ecuador and witnessed sustainable community development in action.
Through her relentless hard work and determined campaigning, Jasmine has created a network of young people passionate about making the world a better place through her university chapter for WE Charity. She is an impassioned and motivating leader in the truest sense.
As an educator, Heather Ferretti teaches by example. Her own infectious passion and boundless energy inspires her students to make a difference on a daily basis.
After spending a year volunteering at schools and orphanages in the Philippines and Cambodia, she returned home to find that Kelsey, a student who cared passionately for girls’ education, was battling brain cancer.
Watching Kelsey fight for her life, while still putting the needs of others before her own, Heather was determined to help. She ran the Toronto Waterfront half-marathon, and single-handedly raised nearly $5000—to build a school in a developing country. Her students joined in, and through bake sales, a spring carnival and a musical production of the Lion King added $7,500 Heather’s fundraising total, which was donated to the Kisaruni All Girls Secondary School in Kenya in Kelsey’s honour.
Heather continues to raise awareness for children’s cancer and to fundraise in Kelsey’s memory for Kisaruni All Girls Secondary School.
Carol Todd knows the meaning of resiliency.
Last year, Carol suffered the tragic loss of her daughter, Amanda, who had endured years of cyber bullying. Since then, Carol has courageously shared her daughter’s story with the world, urging parents to become social media savvy with the hope of preventing similar tragedies.
She created the Amanda Todd Legacy Society as a platform to advocate for anti-bullying and mental health initiatives for youth. Her dedicated and impassioned campaigning has attracted local artists, schools, businesses and whole communities. Some businesses and community associations have created youth programs on self-esteem, online safety and put anti-bullying measures in place.
Carol’s work has inspired many others to start their own initiatives across Canada. Her efforts have resulted in widespread awareness about online safety and how to seek help.
Kennedy Baker learned how to stand up for herself and others at a young age.
When she was 15, Kennedy’s life fell apart. She discovered her mother was sexually assaulted, and Kennedy herself had lumps in both her breasts that had to be removed. Later that year while out running, Kennedy experienced a drive-by shooting.
Then, a few weeks later, her father passed away. Diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Kennedy was hospitalized. When she did return to school, she experienced bullying.
To help overcome her challenges, she began volunteering at a local soup kitchen, called the 7-10 Club, and realized how judged and misunderstood the underprivileged of society were. It inspired her to start STAND, an organization that addresses poverty, homelessness and stereotypes associated with mental health.
Through STAND, Kennedy continues her work to drive homelessness out of her community. She sits on the City of Nanaimo’s Working Group on Homelessness as an honorary member, and is the youngest board member of the 7-10 Club. Kennedy has received many awards and accolades for her accomplishments.
Mackenzie Oliver once wrote on her Facebook page, “I have a secret…I can change the world.” And she has. At just six years old, Mackenzie started the I Love Me Club in Barrie, Ont., to stress the importance of self-esteem and loving yourself inside and out. Nearly six years later, the club has more than 800 members and has raised more than $35,000 for Gilda’s Club, a group that offers support to cancer patients and their families, and other charities. She volunteered in Kenya this past summer and learned about self-esteem issues in a different part of the world.
Nathan How of Victoria has taken part in model United Nations, volunteered as a reading buddy and participated in charitable road races. But in 2010, when he returned from three weeks in Africa, where he and his family volunteered at the Makeni Ecumenical Centre in Zambia and spent time with HIV-AIDS orphans, he was inspired to become involved with Africa Aids Angels (AAA), an organization that raises money for HIV-AIDS projects in sub-Saharan Africa. Nathan is now on the board of directors of AAA, actively working to engage youth in the program.
After learning that the educational infrastructure in India wasn’t good enough to meet the goals of the country’s newly passed Right to Education Act, Stephanie MacGregor was inspired to act. She cofounded the Right to Learn youth in action group at Sir Winston Churchill High School in Calgary, and has since brought the group to the University of Calgary, where she’s now a student. This past school year, the two groups raised almost $50,000 for education in India, as well as for disaster relief around the world.
Nadia Pasquini has taught at Chaminade College School, an all-male Catholic school in Toronto, for more than a decade. She initiated the school’s Grade 9 orientation program, the Leadership and Peer Support Course, and the Tutoring Mentorship program. She’s the faculty leader of The Sandwich Patrol, in which students deliver homemade lunches to homeless people. As the driving force behind the school’s WE Charity program, she has led student fundraising efforts to help those in Sierra Leone and Kenya.
An active volunteer, Emilija Lafond has given her time at a food bank, a soup kitchen and a Sunday school. But this young writer (who won a poetry contest at her school in Toronto) has been most instrumental in promoting Pen, a group that advocates for the literary freedom and human rights of journalists and writers around the world, many of whom are imprisoned. She formed a school club for Pen, the first one in the Toronto District School Board, and organized events to recognize the importance of human rights for writers.
As a child, Simon Atem escaped from his home in South Sudan to Ethiopia, then went to Kenya before applying for refugee status in Canada. At Father Lacombe High School in Calgary, Simon spoke of his dream of building a school in his native village, and so Simon’s Project was born. Through public-speaking and fundraising events, including a run (aptly named Simon’s Run), Simon successfully built the school and reconnected with his family, whom he had long presumed dead. He’s now partnering with Youth Organizing to Understand Conflict and Advocate Nonviolence (YOUCAN), a peer conflict-resolution organization.