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“It really helps me grow and to be more confident in myself.”

June 12, 2024

4 MIN READ

Youth United connects young people with the world and gives their bright ideas for the future a place to shine.

Winnipeg Jets Head Coach Scott Arniel, United Way Winnipeg Board Chair Donna Miller, and United Way Winnipeg President & CEO Michael Richardson visit Main Street Project with Executive Director Jamil Mahmood.

What makes a good leader?
Communication, patience, and perseverance. Inclusivity and understanding. Courage and compassion.

How can we live more sustainably?
Compostable cutlery. Busses and bikes. Clothing swaps.

Who inspires you?
Deputy Premier of Manitoba Uzoma Asagwara.
Gandhi.
My mom.

From the minds and hearts of young people come some of the most important lessons we can learn for our future. Last month, some of those bright minds came together as part of United Way Winnipeg’s Youth United program to learn more about sustainable communities—and to inspire each other to realize their visions of a stronger tomorrow for everyone.

“It’s exciting to know that there’s some initiatives that we can take as a school by coming here and getting inspired by other people around us,” said Shafia, 17, a student at Windsor Park Collegiate. 

“I really want to get involved in groups and organizations that have the same vision as I do.”

Supported by United Way Winnipeg donors since 1992, Youth United grants funds of up to $1,000 for community-focused projects intended to affect positive social change.

Projects must respond to one of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and be conceived, organized, planned, and executed by youth aged 16 to 24.

“Young people often provide unique and innovative perspectives on community issues. Their civic engagement is critical for creating healthy and sustainable communities,” said Amy Fernando, Co-Chair of the Youth United Council.

“We use a by-youth-for-youth model, which gives our volunteers an equal opportunity to learn! Our volunteers walk away from the program with a unique set of grant-making, event-planning, and community-building skills.”

“Honestly, this opened my eyes.”

This year, students from Nelson McIntyre Collegiate aimed to swap disposable bags and utensils in the school’s cafeteria with more sustainable and reusable options like metal forks, small plates, and reusable containers with lids. The project supported Sustainable Development Goal #12: Responsible Consumption and Production to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.

St. James Collegiate’s project, Pancakes and Books for Brooklands, re-invigorated a years-long tradition of a pancake breakfast and book gifting for students at Brooklands Elementary School. The event aimed to help kids at the inner-city school stay connected to reading.

A group of kids from Gray Academy focused on mapping and building little free libraries so books can be more accessible in Winnipeg neighbourhoods. They also partnered with a local women’s shelter to create a free little library for residents.

 “Our program participants are encouraged to learn about the unique needs of their communities and come up with innovative projects,” Fernando said. “Through this, they learn many valuable skills they might not have learned elsewhere, like grant writing and project management.”

Youth United’s wrap-up event brought together this past year’s participants to celebrate their supported projects and have a little fun while learning about building sustainable communities.

Kids got to be part of a conversation with Clan Mothers Healing Village and explore human rights and sustainable development with the Manitoba Association for Rights and Liberties.

Groups picked up litter and trash around Norwood Community Centre, performed random acts of kindness, and practiced “earthing”—a form of outdoor movement therapy.

Youth also answered questions and discussed wide-ranging topics, such as:
What makes a good leader? How can we live more sustainably? And who inspires you?

“Honestly, this opened my eyes,” said Grade 11 student Audrey. “My goal is to become a nurse in the future, so right now, that’s my motivation, something that I’m going to work up to. And, in general, as a person, I want to be more out into the community…be more involved.

“It really helps me grow and to be more confident in myself.”

“In the classroom setting, it's videos, it's books, it's worksheets … 
maybe a guest speaker here or there. But when you join the chapter, 
it's the hands-on experience.”

Windsor Park Collegiate teacher Carla Allan brought students from her career internship program to the Youth United wrap up.

She said the tools young people develop through Youth Unitedcritical thinking skills, problem solving, collaboration and communication with others, adaptability and creativity, and a deeper understanding of local challenges—are absolutely invaluable to their futures.

 “They come to an event like this, and they become exposed to social issues or sustainable community concerns that we definitely teach in school, but it’s different to see it versus learn about it in a classroom setting,” said Allan. “In the classroom setting, it’s videos, it’s books, it’s worksheets … maybe a guest speaker here or there. But when you join the chapter, it’s the hands-on experience. It gives them the best learning. I think it helps grow their empathy.”

Even in a practical sense, Allan said students who’ve been part of Youth United are more prepared when they head out into the world, with more well-rounded answers to questions often asked in job interviews.

“When they get asked to talk about a challenge you’ve overcome or where somebody challenges a belief you’ve had or an idea you’ve had … they’re giving examples that are meaningful and have depth, and they can go into so much detail about it,” she said.  

“It just takes them to a different level.”

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