Peace Innovators gather to showcase youth-led community impacts

Wednesday, May 25, 2022
Youth Innovators gather in the Centre for Peace Advancement

April 30 marked the culmination of the 2021-2022 Peace Innovators Scholarship and Mentoring program. Eleven students celebrated their community projects at the Peace Innovators Showcase with friends, family, and supporters held in the Grebel Gallery. The Peace Innovators program is a joint partnership between Kindred Credit Union, The Ripple Effect Education (TREE), and the Centre for Peace Advancement that, for the past five years, has equipped grade 11 and 12 students from across Ontario with skills to tackle a local problem they’re passionate about. The first in-person showcase in more than two years, this event culminated the incredible year-long efforts of these youth leaders, passionate about peace and justice.

The showcase recognized the learnings and hard work of this year’s cohort of Peace Innovators:

  • Abby Drewery: Youth political activism project to share community “calls to action” with local politicians
  • Alexandra Elmslie: “Wellness 4 All” project to address the mental health of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities
  • Mackenzie Leu and Caitlin McGill: “The Bucket List Project” to address teen mental health issues
  • Kate Woo: Consent education and empowerment through classroom presentations and social media
  • Krista Abdel Sater: “Newcomer Youth Resources in Windsor” flyer for new Canadian high school students
  • Mehack Tambe: "Mental Health in our Community” widgets, making mental health supports more readily available to students online
  • Natasha Nakhle: “Connect with Empathy” project to share educational resources to address youth cyberbullying
  • Nathan Wong and Vincent Chen: “Soil Health and Sustainability” workshop in elementary school classrooms
  • Shubham Patel: “Mindful Mornings” to promote mindfulness in the classroom

The showcase was hosted by Centre Director Paul Heidebrecht, with opening remarks given by Ian Thomas, CEO of Kindred Credit Union. Each student was then given time to present on their learning journeys and project outcomes. The day concluded with closing remarks from Katie Gingerich, Founder and Former Executive Director of TREE, and a catered lunch. The 2021-2022 cohort began last August at the kick-off retreat, then continued on until April with ongoing mentorship and a mid-year virtual meet up. A new group of students will start the program this summer.

Learn more these bright, young leaders in “2021-2022 Peace Innovators begin their changemaking journey.”

Gingerich looks back on the past year with joy and pride:

 “This has been an exciting year of learning, growth and social impact! There is never a dull moment in this program and it’s taken a great deal of resilience and creativity to navigate their roles as change makers over the past few months.”

Youth Innovators Gather for a Group Picture

The students learned how to design a plan based on needs, to research and interview those with lived experience and important community stakeholders, and to pitch and share the story of our impact. “They also learned a bit about self-care in our lives as innovators, and made space for joy in the process,” adds Gingerich.

This program is meaningful for students, but it is also impactful for their mentors. Tom O’Connor, a Careers, Civics, and English teacher at Jacob Hespeler Secondary School, has mentored a total three students over the past several years. This year he mentored Abby Drewery, who he previously taught and encouraged to apply to the program due to her interest in civic engagement.

O’Connor continues to be involved in this program because he believes it helps students become engaged citizens:

“Teachers often ask students to be a part of their community or hang a poster of Gandhi saying, ‘Be the change,’ but that is often where it ends. This program allows us to see those students who do want to change the world and give them that opportunity.”

Reflecting on what he learned as a mentor, O’Connor is convinced that the future is in good hands:

“It is inspiring to see these young people taking on these amazing endeavours! I am often shocked at what they can accomplish and their resilience. Perhaps more importantly, I love that 'adults' and people in positions of power see these young people not as vapid doom-scrollers but as change-makers! When I chatted with Abby, I learned that she had been talking with various politicians and even a senator. That is amazing. As a teacher, I am proud; as a citizen, I am enthralled.”

Teachers often ask students to be a part of their community or hang a poster of Ghandi saying, 'Be the change', but that is often where it ends. This program allows us to see these students who do want to change the world and give them that opportunity." - Tom O'Connor

The showcase concluded with a send-off to inspire: “I have seen you grow, ask thoughtful questions, relentlessly iterate, and take inspiration from those already working for peace around you,” said Gingerich. “TREE has followed your work with excitement and anticipation of the impact you’ve created and will continue to create throughout your lives. We know this is just the beginning.”

Student and community engagement is a key way the Centre pursues peace, empowering curious minds to enact change in critical places and spaces.

Learn more about the Peace Innovators and Mentorship Program.