TORONTO, ON – [Monday, March 14, 2022] – The Ontario Community Newspapers Association (OCNA) and their member newspapers are very proud to celebrate the final recipients of the 2021 Ontario Junior Citizen Awards.
These outstanding young individuals, aged nine to 17, are making a difference in their communities. Not only do these inspiring individuals see a need but rise to the challenge and contribute both their time and energy to making improvements. At a young age, they are committed to making a difference.
The 12 finalists will be invited to celebrate their accomplishments during a special virtual ceremony on Wednesday May 11th. We are honoured to have the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, the Honourable Elizabeth Dowdeswell, in attendance to recognize these inspiring young people.
Please join us in celebrating the 2021 Ontario Junior Citizens, listed below in alphabetical order.
Jacob Colatosti, 17, Hamilton
Jacob is a true believer of civic engagement, and that youth can play an important role in advising government on important issues. Jacob believes that you can have a voice in government, even if not old enough to vote. He used this voice to encourage voter turnout during the federal election.
He is a member of local Constituency Youth Council which offers federal government a youth perspective on important issues including climate change and mental health, while also working on community projects including community cleanups and food drivers. He is also an ambassador for UNICEF Canada One Youth U-Report, creating content and speaking about key issues it stands for.
Jacob is trying to change history by advocating to lower the voter age in Canada. He is one of 13 young people from across the country that has filed an application at the Ontario Superior Court of Justice to challenge the voting age in Canada.
He is also involved in many extracurricular activities and is an academic achiever.
Alexandra Elmslie, 17, Guelph
Alexandra has been significantly involved in community service over past four years; and intends to amass 1,000 hours of volunteer work by end of high school.
Alexandra’s many activities include: election campaign youth engagement lead for local MPP, youth council president, KidsAbility youth advisory council co-chair, Upper Grand DSB student senate, reading club, hockey coach, swim coach for Special Olympics, and many more. She has received several community awards, is an honour roll student, musically talented and bilingual.
Her biggest motivator for all her volunteerism came from her own challenges as a student with ADHD. She has found ways to manage her mental health and wellbeing and used these as motivation and inspiration to work on projects that facilitate real change and have impact on others.
Stella, Portia & Voilet Gorgoni, 12/10/8, East Gwillimbury
In January 2021, sisters Stella, Portia and Violet started an organization called LIL BIG KID Squad, after being inspired by friends to make holiday cards to cheer up seniors during pandemic lockdowns. They rallied their friends, and through a series of virtual meetings to discuss and plan community activities, they created and completed 12 successful projects.
Their projects included Elf Squad, making cards for seniors in long term care facilities, Kid Squad, putting together 400 jars with inspirational notes delivered to kids’ porches during school lockdowns), Super Squad, collecting over 3,500 lbs. of food and over $5,000 in cash and gift cards with Food 4 Families for the Newmarket Food Pantry, Earth Squad, picking up 776 bags of garbage, and many other community endeavors.
Neha Gupta, 17, Dundas
Neha has been involved in the fight for human rights and equity since 2018. At the age of 14, she became co-Chair of the Human Rights and Equity Advisory Committee for her school board and has been re-elected for this position since then. The Committee meets monthly, but Neha extends work to outside meetings; facilitating discussion between members, meeting with community stakeholders, and mentoring new members.
She has led the initiative to terminate the Hamilton Police Liaison Program within her school board. She’s a two-time TEDx Speaker – on the inequities and urgent need to dismantle barriers. Neha was invited to speak at the school board’s Administrators Day on the importance of student identity in the classroom. She has empowered others to take action against injustice.
She is an IB Diploma Candidate, competes in Science and Engineering Fairs, has created a digital magazine relating to science, and speaks at human rights-related events.
Neha has faced her own divisions in school due to her religion and race and is passionate about promoting multiculturalism and diversity in schools. These experiences help fuel her hope for inclusivity.
Sophie & Valerie LeVasseur, 16 & 13, Ottawa
Sophie and Valerie are two very motivated sisters who want to make a difference, one step at a time.
Sophie has been involved with volunteering and fundraising for many vulnerable groups including young girls, veterans, and kids with hearing deficiencies Along with her fundraising, she provides comfort and support to these individuals through her volunteering. She is currently running a fundraising campaign to support the local kids’ hospital to enhance research of heart issues. She is an elite baseball and hockey player and helps to train and coach junior sports teams. She recently received a grant to purchase electronic equipment to allow kids with hearing deficiencies to learn to play baseball for the first time.
Valérie is actively involved in organizations catering to women’s issues, beginning with Girl Guides, then volunteering with the local church to raise funds and Christmas gifts for children in need. She has organized social events for the inclusion of new arrivals to Canada and was part of a group encouraging young kids to take part in sports, explaining how to play and getting free equipment. Valérie takes great pride in the sports she plays, hockey, baseball and swimming and is a highlander dancer, mentoring younger dancers throughout the year.
Both sisters have helped publish several books with proceeds going to a variety of social causes. ‘A little Girl Suffers from Cancer’ also resulted in Air Canada donating $50,000 to the CHEO Foundation on behalf of Valerie and the book. Other books published include ‘VIMY, the duty of A Soldier and of a Country’, and ‘Ottawa Senators, 1923, Determinations and Courage’. They are completing their latest book on the 100 Most Remarkable Women in Canada. The book will have a special version in the four Indigenous languages of the 10 Indigenous women interviewed and will be distributed on Reserves in Canada.
Abby Mitchell, 7, Port Dover
In the Spring of 2021 Abby created ‘The Abby Post’, a local Port Dover newspaper – to share community news and to give residents something to do during the isolation of Covid.
Abby’s paper was about more than sharing news. She felt it was important that people had something to do during Covid. Rediscovering the town and county became a focus for her writing. Sharing fun activities to do around town, either for free or for minimal cost, keeping in mind that not everyone could pay to have fun. Interviews showcased not only local businesses, but everyday people and family members.
Abby collected money selling bags and pens, and from interview fees, which was given to the food bank in Port Dover. She raised $3,400 over the summer and continues to raise money with new interviews and sponsorships.
Jin Schofield, 17, Richmond Hill
As an aspiring neurosurgeon and neuroscientist, many of Jin’s activities are innovation and medicine-focused. She is a co-founder of ConchShell, a start-up that seeks to create a wearable translator for the speech-impaired that converts American Sign Language into a spoken voice. ConchShell has since earned $16,600 in funding.
She’s co-lead of a youth non-profit Operation Med School Toronto, organizing conferences and events allowing youth to interact with medical students/professionals. The organization engages with over 1,000 students through social media. She also co-leads STREAM Syndicate, that exposes students to learning opportunities across STEM, the arts, and humanities.
Jin is CEO of MarketAngelo, a student start-up that operates a website allowing students to learn about ESG ethical investing. She is President of the Student Council, President of the school’s HOSA (future health professionals) chapter, President and founder of her school’s Medical Sciences and Statistics Club, and co-President of the school newspaper.
She was a volunteer researcher at the Hybrid Biomedical Optics Laboratory at York University, senior board member of her school’s competitive robotics team, and is the director of parliamentary debate for her school’s Debate Club.
Jin has a medical condition that often hinders her ability to work for long hours. Her personal experience with this difficulty, as well as her past life experiences, have made her a very empathetic and passionate person that seeks to better the situations of other individuals.
Kusha Shirani, 17, Oakville
Kusha began serving the community at the age of nine by raising money for McMaster Hospital childhood cancer research through making and selling comic books at his school. The project grew to raise $2,000. He is a champion of his community and has made measurable impacts as a passionate advocate for children, youth and the environment. His volunteer activities are as varied as his skills, and they include: mentoring and coaching young children both academically and athletically, and organizing various fundraising and food and clothing drives to help children and youth in need.
To date, he has completed more than 1,000 hours of community service for causes including: Oakville park ambassador, Farsi language teacher, Oakville Big Brothers/Big Sisters, referee /coach for youth soccer, Oakville Police youth advisory committee, Oakville Food Drive, Bronte Creek neighbourhood clean-up, Kerr Street Mission, and many others.
Sarah Syed, 17, North York
Sarah has amassed over 1,000 volunteer hours and is passionate about giving back to her community. Initially in elementary school, helping students and teachers in the classroom, she expanded her volunteering by supporting vulnerable members within her community, by helping prepare Ramadan Dinners at her mosque.
Sarah developed a passion for humanitarian and environmental work through the University Leadership Program at her school where she is an Events Lead that organizes and facilitates new clubs, trips and fundraisers. She volunteers at Ecoambassadeur preparing materials (campaign letters/brochures) for an equity and diversity campaign for workplaces. She is the committee Co-chair and Accessible Housing Network Social Media Coordinator at the AEBC Toronto chapter and has organized fundraising trivia events to support the program.
She is active in environmental sustainability as co-editor of the Green Neighbours Network monthly newsletter and idea leader for Youth in Action. She has developed prototypes of life changing innovations. Sarah has won numerous Science Fair awards, Top 25 Under 25 Environmentalist Award and the Nature Inspirations Finalist award.
Jaylynn Wolfe, 14, Kincardine
Jaylynn is proud to share her native Ojibway heritage with the community. At a young age, she learned of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG), which troubled her deeply, and moved forward in raising awareness for the MMIWG. She was a keynote speaker on the subject at the Unity Gathering at Kettle and Stoney Point First Nation.
Her most recent and significant project is The Ribbon Skirt Project, setting out to make ribbon skirt kits. Through donations and volunteers, the project was able to make more than 215 ribbon skirts gifted to youth on her First Nation of Kettle and Stony Point.
She received the Young Woman of Distinction Award in March 2018, Remarkable Citizen of the Year Award in 2020, and Inclusiveness and Diversity Award in 2021.
Alexa Yeo, 12, Goderich
Alexa is a musician and harpist who uses her talents to raise money to support local charities. She uses her music to help better her community. In 2020, she wrote a song dedicated to frontline and essential workers and enlisted over 50 Ontario children to say thank you for the worker’s dedication and bravery. That video was featured on CTV National News. She also wrote and performed an original song for a local hospice telethon, alongside other artists, which raised over $100,000 for the cause.
Here many other music and art-related community service activities have helped raise funds for worthwhile local organizations in her community and beyond.
Laiba & Manha Yusuf, 9 & 10, Newmarket
Sisters Laiba and Manha have proven that you can make a difference in your community no matter your age.
Laiba started her “Kindness For Buddies” campaign, to raise awareness of good deeds and spread kindness through fundraisers to collect financial and in-kind donations, empowering abused women and children, youth and homeless, and patients receiving mental health treatment. She also initiated three free programs addressing Covid-19 challenges: free tutoring, free access to reading resources, and free delivery of food to families in need.
Manha started her ‘Stamp Out Stigma for Mental Health” campaign to raise awareness and reduce the stigma around mental health through fundraisers. She recognizes the needs of community and works on making a positive change through in-kind donation drives and fundraisers of those facing hardship, poverty, homelessness and mental health issues.
Both sisters are involved in many other community fundraisers as well, including Back to School, Young Mothers at Rose of Sharon, Inn From the Cold, SickKids, Children’s Aid Society, helping to raise thousands of dollars over the past three years, leading to several community awards.
The Ontario Junior Citizen Awards are promoted through the OCNA. Nominations of eligible youth aged six to 17, are received through 215 community newspaper members committed to recognizing the young leaders who are making a difference in their communities. Nominees may be involved in community service, are contributing to their community while living with a physical or psychological limitation, individuals who have performed acts of heroism or bravery, or those who achieve excellence in personal achievement. Candidates are also recognized for being ‘good kids’ who go above and beyond what is expected of their age and show a commitment to making life better for others. A panel of judges unanimously agreed on the final award recipients.
~ Photo by olia danilevich from Pexels