Proving that giving to others makes you richer, 20 of Canada’s brightest volunteers are getting a free university education as reward for their efforts in helping to make their own communities better.
The 20 high school students from across Canada were each chosen to receive a TD Canada Trust Scholarship for Community Leadership, valued at up to $60,000 and covering four years of tuition, spending money and offers of summer employment with TD Canada Trust.
Each student demonstrated initiative, ingenuity and perseverance in doing something that benefited his or her own community, qualities the program’s executive director, Jane Thompson, says cut across all of Canada’s cultural, economic and political barriers.
“Our winners are from the full range of Canadian society, coast to coast, all different income levels and all sorts of issues in our community. It’s an incredible experience just to spend time with these amazing young people,” Thompson said.
Diana Varvarici, 18, from Newtonbrook Secondary School in Toronto was honoured for her work creating a volunteer translation service for new immigrants to Canada as well as her efforts running cultural events in her community, which raised money for charity. Varvarici, multilingual herself — along with English she speaks Russian, Armenian and French — got the idea for a volunteer translation service upon seeing how hard life can be for new immigrants who don’t speak English or French.
“When they come here, they don’t necessarily understand all of the things they need to do in this country because it’s so difficult to adapt to a new place,” she said.
Varvarici’s 65 student volunteers, all aged 14-22, offer help to immigrants in 15 different languages as well as advice and assistance in dealing with OHIP, social insurance, legal documents and even transit travel routes.
Seventeen-year-old Kayode Fatoba received the award for creating a soccer program to give kids in his community -- Toronto’s troubled Jane and Finch neighbourhood -- something constructive and empowering to do in their free time. The soccer program started two years ago with the only funding coming from a local hot dog vendor who paid for uniforms and gave the kids free hot dogs after games. Today the program boasts three teams with roughly 15 players each and is growing. Without the scholarship award, Fatoba would never have gotten a chance to go to university — now he plans to attend Simon Fraser University to study Health Sciences in September.
“The most rewarding part of the program is that a lot of people look up to me, and that’s something you can’t buy. When a kid looks up to you, that’s priceless,” Fatoba said.
Jane Wu, 17, from Calgary created and organized the “Beauty and Brains” conference to promote stronger career aspirations among young women. The conference was so successful, it now has the funding to continue for the next three-to-five years and Wu plans to take it nationwide.
“What we really want to do is to expose women to the vast horizons they have in front of them. It’s absolutely amazing to see how a small idea can snowball into something so big,” Wu said.
Her advice? Try getting engaged in your own community.
“When you’re being selfless you learn so much about yourself and connect so well to your community. Just do it once and I promise you’ll be hooked,” she said.
Cassandra Fong, 18, from Vancouver did something sure to amaze viewers of crime dramas like CSI and Law & Order — she created a lie detector test which is 100-per-cent accurate, compared to about 90-per-cent accuracy for a traditional test.
The secret is that instead of measuring shifts in perspiration and heart rate like a normal test, Fong’s test measures chaotic shifts in stomach frequencies. She got the idea for the technique when learning about how the stomach works in her biology class.
Fong’s invention has garnered interest from police services and university researchers and Fong has already started the patent process.
As for her friends, Fong jokes, “They definitely won’t be lying to me now!”
Winners of the award program, started 13 years ago, were chosen from a pool of 4200 kids across Canada by a panel of judges, which included Canadian Senators, business and educational professionals and past award recipients.