Meet the 2015 Youth Ottawa Spirit of the Capital Youth Awards finalists who are showing that young people are not waiting to change the world they are making an impact now! They each have a unique drive and commitment to their respective initiatives and communities.
Nanik & Hari Adnani
Finalists, Technology & Innovation
Nanik and Hari are Maker. A Maker is a modern-day inventor, a do-it-yourself kind of person. They are creative thinker who see needs and innovate to meet those needs. Along with their mother, they started and run an organization called Maker Junior that has the goal of turning other people into Makers and empowering them. Nanik is hands-on. He wanted to recycle. He wanted to create a paddle board. He combined both of those ideas to create a paddle board out of used soft drink containers. He used the design process and tested his prototypes, created new iterations and persevered until he created a design that worked! He spoke on a panel about his experiences, passion and drive at the Ottawa Mini Maker Faire. Hari is an excellent communicator. He clearly and accessibly explains what they’re doing to people and on TV interviews. He engages children who are shy and helps them to find ways to be Makers! He finds ways to make sure anyone who is interested can be involved in what they’re doing with Maker Junior. Hari took a grade 3/4 class’ robot to the Toronto Mini Maker Faire, he wore him around all day and talked about what he was for, he used a GPS to track his route. With Maker Junior, Nanik and Hari are teaching children how to create and use technology in a fun and unique way.
Winner, Technology & Innovation
“With my eye for detail, my love of arts, my commitment to excel in technology, and my lifelong aspiration to make good better, I want to be a model citizen first and foremost, and an inspirational technical director who can hopefully set new boundaries for creative excellence.”
Agastya has combined his love of arts and commitment to technology beautifully by creating and excelling in animation. Not only has Agastya received multiple accolades at both the provincial and national levels in the annual Skills Canada Animation competition but he has also single-handedly sparked a competitive animation club at his high school. With his expertise and talent, he has since assisted in developing animation teaching techniques for the communication-technology courses at both Sir Wilfrid Laurier Secondary School and Bell High School. Agastya’s passion and ingenuity are consistent among all that he does. He is president of his school’s Eco-Team, creator of “A New Perspective” an online magazine for students and a champion for chess within his school and greater community.
Kathleen has positively impacted the community in many ways through her entrepreneurial endeavours and is a testament to leadership and passion. Among these endeavours is her involvement as President of Enactus uOttawa, a social enterprise project focused on creating businesses revolving around the community’s most pressing problems and her volunteer initiatives regarding mental health. She began her work in the community by starting a project aimed to empower at-risk youth, and help integrate them into a high school setting. Kathleen then ran a Nationally recognized non-profit organization called the Mental Health Project, which was designed to provide youth with the resources to access mental health care in their communities. In her role as President of Enactus uOttawa, she has contributed over 2,000 volunteer hours, empowered over 1,000 people, helped divert over 6,000 pounds of waste from landfills, and has helped raise over $90,000 in funding. Kathleen has grown and started several projects that work with at-risk youth, high school entrepreneurs, the homeless, marginalized immigrant women and individuals with mental illness. Her social enterprises include; EcoEquitable boutique, a fashion boutique that sells women’s accessories made from repurposed fabric, which diverts harmful textile waste from landfills, and employs women, and CigBins a business that collects and recycles cigarette butts while providing meaningful employment opportunities for individuals with mental illness. Kathleen has secured multiple customers for CigBins and is projected to have over $100,000 in revenues in 2015, provide at least 5 jobs for individuals with mental illness and recycle hundreds of thousands of cigarette butt waste collected from city streets. Kathleen is a true leader and continues to inspire other young people around her to utilize their skills to have a social impact in the community.
Hussein was born in Windsor Ontario while his parents were living there as refugees but they returned to their country when he was still an infant. At the age of 16, Hussein decided to leave his home, his family, his friends. He immersed himself into a new culture, a new school, a second language, alone, without any financial support all the while finding the strength within him to be determined to change his life and to find the right path with the dream of eventually paying his parents back for all they had done for him. His father was handicapped and his parents had three other children to feed. Hussein managed to enter the ESL program at Woodroffe High School and graduated grade 12 in the regular English academic program with great success. He lived in a shelter for a part of his high school years but with his determination he got a job and an apartment and things only got better from there. He participated in the Pathways program and has been giving back to them ever since by volunteering and sharing his success story as an ambassador. Although Hussein lives with chronic pain, his commitment is a commendable attribute that he applies in helping and serving his community and peers. His physical challenges have motivated him to learn about the human body and how to fix its ailments and this lead him to two of his latest accomplishments: he is in his second year at the University of Ottawa in the Human Kinetics program and he started his own Personal Training and Coaching business, HSL Fitness. He now has a profitable company, a website, a following of dedicated clients who have undergone life changing experiences because of him, he continually studies and travels for his own professional development to learn and experience all there is to know in his field but his ultimate goal remains his focus – his family. Hussein has been exemplary in the demonstration of his citizenship understanding that giving back to the community that had welcomed him and supported him was about sharing his gratitude for life and becoming a role model in his community.
Winner, Service & Caring
Within his school, O’Chang has made the story of his family’s history come alive. His father was a Lost Boy of Sudan and a child soldier there as well. O’Chang has brought this issue to the consciousness of many young students in Canada. He is a leader in St Luke’s Social Justice Club. Though the club has previously undertaken smaller causes, he is influential enough that his dream to build a school for war orphans in Pagak, South Sudan, has become a school initiative and will continue to be a cause with which St Luke Catholic School is closely involved. He is a good role model for his peers and classmates and is very kind to the younger students within the school. He is looked at as a leader to them and he treats them with compassion and encouragement. O’Chang’s demeanour, in all aspects of his schooling, is that of respect and tenderness. O’Chang doesn’t just say he wants to make the world a better place, he carries the burden of the injustices of the world with him every day, but he is not overwhelmed by it. He constantly advocates for others and he is sensitive to their needs. When things become difficult, O’Chang always sees the possibility of change.
Finalist, Service & Caring
“Going through so many challenges in life so far has not only inspired me to help others who are also struggling, but has taught me to keep going and never let your disadvantages stop you from doing what you love.”
Nicole has been described as influential and inspirational. She is co-president of St. Pius High School, a peer mentor and creator of Pius Fusion, an organization aimed at creating a supportive environment to discuss issues that high school girls’ face, while having fun and building friendships. Though Nicole exudes strength and confidence she has not always been the strong leader she is today. At a young age Nicole was diagnosed with extreme anxiety and OCD. As she got older she was bullied in school, which caused her to have very low self-esteem. She developed an eating disorder and shortly there after was diagnosed with depression, ADHD and trichotillomania. Nicole’s struggles with mental illness have shaped the young woman she is today. She describes her mental illness as something that no longer defines her. She is compassionate towards the struggle of others and spends her time supporting those within her school and community. Nicole has taken an active role in ‘Bullying’ and ‘Mental Health’ awareness campaigns. Nicole plans to study psychology specialized in addiction counseling or dialectical behaviour in University.
Winner, Arts & Culture
Sophia’s love of art is evident as she models a disciplined work ethic and perseverance. The personal joy and satisfaction she derives from making art and celebrating different cultures motivates her to develop events which allow even the most timid people to find their artistic voice and create, with the goals of sharing and building empathy and understanding through the arts. She has been instrumental in using art to engage students, parents, younger siblings and community members in important awareness campaigns around mental health, anti-bullying, and diversity. Some of these topics are difficult for students to approach, but by inviting them to create art through activities such as screen-printing and button-making, she helps create a safe and supportive space to exchange ideas. She has explored henna as an art form and has incorporated positive messages into designs which students have then worn. Sophia has supported events such as Ridgemont’s Arts Nights for the past three years and Ridgemont’s Diversity Dinners. These are events which not only showcase arts and culture but allow members of the community to see all our students in a positive light. In a time when much of our visual culture is peppered with images which can be divisive, she believes in the power of art to bring people together. As a graduating student, this year she continued to expand her leadership by supporting our grade 8 orientation day and running art workshops for students in feeder schools. She easily puts younger students at ease, which is not surprising given that she spends much time tutoring students at the Ridgemont’s Homework Club. Sophia’s joy in creating art and working to remain true to her own voice as an artist, while developing her technique, is inspirational. She is a student and artist who reminds us all of the importance of learning and sharing generously and of the difference the arts can make.
Finalist, Arts & Culture
Among a group of very strong, devoted Drama students, Glenys stands out in several ways. In terms of talent, she is second to none. Her performances are electric thanks to a mix of exceptional talent (acting and singing) and an intense devotion to her craft that is a joy to behold. Though this type of ‘intensity’ is often found in ferociously ambitious, self-involved artists, Glenys is nothing of the sort. She is a top-notch classmate and citizen of the school, with a great sense of humour. She has played key parts in many of our Drama performances, is a top player on our much heralded improv team, and still finds time to involve herself in the school at large. This year she was selected as a peer leader (one of 50 out of our 1300 students) in the inaugural Sources of Strength Committee at our school. Sources of Strength is a program that gets students to do outreach in the school in teaching resilience to their peers and building a more supportive, happy school community. Glenys was selected for her friendly demeanour, her integrity and her willingness to reach out to others in the school. Her passion for theatre and comedy is the driving force in her life and she carries them with her in all that she does.
Finalist, Take a Stand
“I hope that everyone smiles and says hi when they see someone different.”
When he was six years old, Tommy decided he wanted to write a book to teach his friends about his sister Melanie’s rare syndrome, Cornelia de Lange Syndrome (CdLS) while still entertaining them. Tommy and his mother wrote the book together titled; Melanie and Tommy have two pet rats and one syndrome. In 2010, a school invited them to present their book and Tommy decided that he wanted to do the whole presentation himself. As his confidence grew he began to see how his presentations were helping the “Melanie’s out there” and spreading acceptance of people with disabilities. He has now presented to over 70 schools, hospitals, fundraisers and conferences throughout Canada and the US. Tommy also helps organize and volunteers at drums circles for people with disabilities and non-disabilities in Ottawa South and Kanata and plans to start one at his high school next year. He says “there will be many students there with special needs and I’m anxious to make an activity that we can all participate together- inclusiveness…like the drum circles.” Tommy’s determination, energy, devotion, love, passion and hundreds of hours of volunteering has helped the community accept disability and has helped disability integrate into the community.
Winner, Take a Stand
“I am passionate about the Arctic, all parts of it, from its physical beauty, indigenous cultures, remoteness, politics and economics, even the Arctic Council!”
Gerrit’s passion for the Arctic has molded his life into one of sacrifice, commitment, and relentlessness. After participating on a Students on Ice Expedition to Greenland and Nunavut, Gerrit was permanently transformed. He has worked with the Youth Artic Coalition to bridge gaps between youth all across the north. He is currently developing a leadership workshop that will be implemented in communities throughout the north and has worked on several projects, including a Campaign in support of Clyde River, NU against seismic testing. He’s not just passionate about the Arctic – he is the living embodiment of all that is possible for the future of the Arctic and the youth, peoples, communities, and organizations tied to that future. His future will be the same future that the Arctic shares. His vision for this future is a connected world where North and South collaboratively share in the prosperity and the responsibility.
Finalist, Academic Perseverance
“Everything I do is only to set more goals and enjoy life a bit more.”
Marty’s struggle with anxiety has been a source of mental anguish for many years, though medicated he still felt awkward, shy and ashamed of his anxiety. In what should have been his senior year of high school Marty fell short completing with only five credits. Though he felt discouraged with the prospect of never graduating he committed himself to taking better care of himself, feeling better and working harder. He set an enthusiastic goal to earn 12 credits in a year. Things started looking up for Marty, his attitude had changed and he had lost 50 pounds, which started to make him feel better overall. Though Marty faced struggles to lose weight and acquire credits his positive attitude and determination carried him through. Marty ended up working into the summer and completing his 12 credits after doing some co-op. He is now close to graduating and has been accepted into his program of choice at Algonquin College. Marty has lost 120lbs and has overcome his anxiety; he inspires his peers and leads an active social life.
Winner, Academic Perseverance
Skylar’s passion for helping children with special needs began when he was living in foster care at age 13. His foster brother at the time had Autism. They developed a special relationship and Skylar took a keen interest in his therapies. After living in foster care for a year, Skylar returned to live with his father while still maintaining a relationship and caring for his foster brother. When he and his father were faced with eviction Skylar had to take a step back from helping his foster brother. He took his passion for working with children with special needs to school and has worked in the Autism Unit for co-op credits. Skylar has worked diligently to succeed in each course, and has been excelling ever since, achieving Honour Roll recognition each year. Overtime, his family situation has continued to change in challenging ways, but his attitude has remained consistently positive. He has exemplified what it is to be a leader and a role model, affecting both students and staff within his school community. Skylar has been accepted into Algonquin College’s Developmental Services Worker program and he plans to work on a community farm assisting individuals with special needs. Skylar is an individual who graciously appreciates the opportunities that have come his way; he never takes anything for granted. Not only has Skylar overcome challenges within his personal life, but he has turned his experiences into motivation to succeed.
Robenson Saint Jean
Finalist, Personal Courage
At seventeen years old, Robenson has encountered many obstacles in his life. In elementary school, he was repeatedly suspended for fighting, had difficulty controlling his temper and channeling his frustrations. Between the ages of 13 and 15 his life reached a crisis point. He was removed from his home and put in the care of the Children’s Aid Society. It was at this point that his life started to spin out of control. With no significant male role model, and little direction, Robenson got involved in drugs and started to become more physically aggressive. His aggression led to multiple arrests, probation and eventually led to a long-term suspension from school and he was sent to Safe Schools at St. Ambrose. It was at St. Ambrose where he took advantage of the services and counselling offered and learned a lot about himself and found other ways of dealing with his temper and aggressive behavior. Robenson started to use sports, primarily football, as a release. He credits a lot of his coaches from the Myers Ryder for helping turn his life around. He said they helped him see who he truly wanted to be and it wasn’t the person that was getting into trouble. He made a decision to stop using drugs and stop hanging out with the friends that were getting him into trouble. Robenson transitioned to Notre Dame and over the past three years and has followed through with his commitment to change; he was given a new start. He stepped up and became the person he wanted to be, a model student and someone others could look up to as a true example. He now volunteers as a mentor to younger students, works with disadvantaged youth within his community and has been named an up-and-coming prospect for football by ESPN.
Winner, Personal Courage
“This experience has shaped my outlook on life dramatically, I have chosen a more positive outlook.”
When Anya learned that the breathlessness she had been experiencing was more than just asthma she was devastated. With a diagnosis of life-threatening pulmonary hypertension her life quickly shifted from one of soccer games, violin lessons and swimming to oxygen tanks, a lost year of school and avoiding daily physical exertion of any kind. During her year away from school Anya became keenly aware of her surroundings and current event, she developed an interest in human rights and social justice. As she returned to school, Anya threw herself into both her studies and her passion for social change with energy and enthusiasm. While juggling constant appointments at CHEO and both the symptoms of her disease and the side-effects of its treatment, Anya still manages to arrive at school everyday filled with optimism and an impressive determination to break down boundaries not only in her life, but also to look at ways to break them down for others as well.