A Grade Nine high school dropout, Kiana Eastmond credits a school-based youth-led violence program with putting her on the right track and providing a platform to express herself and become a leader.
Shortly after returning to the classroom in Grade 12, Eastmond joined the Respect in Schools Everywhere (RISE) program developed a decade ago by East Metro Youth Services (EMYS).
Student volunteers go through anti-sexual harassment and anti-bullying training and learn how to facilitate workshops in school.
“RISE taught me the importance of having a voice and also that an injustice somewhere is an injustice everywhere,” Eastmond, a first-generation Canadian of Jamaican and Guyanese parentage, said. “It gave me a platform to speak and be heard and a strong sense of community. For the first time in my life, I was placed in a leadership role and recognized for doing so.”
Confident in her ability to lead and make a meaningful contribution to her community, Eastmond has been quite active in the past eight years. She served as an EMYS board member for two years, a program staff at Christie Ossington Neighbourhood Centre, a member of the Nuclear Waste Management Organization youth advisory board, a branding & marketing consultant with the Ontario Federation of Labour before launching a company – Sandbox Studios – which is an artist development hub.
With an unquenchable thirst for learning to enhance her knowledge in leadership and cutting-edge technology, Eastmond jumped at the opportunity to be part of the Studio Y: Ontario’s Youth Social Impact & Leadership Academy.
She’s among 26 exceptional young people between the ages of 18 and 29 selected to participate in the nine-month training and mentoring program to build and refine leadership, social innovation and entrepreneurial skills to spur change in their communities and across Ontario.
Through the program, the young people will develop key networks with innovators and leaders across a wide range of sectors and secure real-world experience working on projects, including connecting local food producers to consumers, building a model for self-directed lifelong learning and designing space for youth collaboration and innovation.
For Malvern resident, Anique Jordan, this is a once-in-lifetime opportunity to learn tangible skills to thrive in the 21st century.
In 2007, the Cedarbrae Collegiate Institute and York University graduate started KEYS (Knowledge Equal Youth Success) that provides programs and services to help elevate and prepare young people for life after school.
Recognized as a leader in healthy youth development and community engagement, she has lived and researched in Ecuador and Barbados where she studied cultural programming and small scale entrepreneurship and represented Canada at the first World Afro-Descendant Youth Summit Costa Rica in 2011.
“I started working in the community at age 13 and my goal is to set up a Centre for Social Innovation for Youth,” said Jordan whose parents migrated from Trinidad & Tobago. “The Studio Y program will give me the skills and knowledge I need to achieve my goals and become a real asset.”
The provincial government invested $10 million over five years into the program to develop young people’s creativity and foster positive thought.
“The experiences that you had already leading you to this opportunity are amazing,” said Minister of Children & Youth Services Teresa Piruzza. “This is a great opportunity for you to take those experiences and leverage them with the experiences of others to develop the leadership and critical skills and develop those partnerships and that network that are going to lead you to great success when you are done this program…This is an investment in our future and our young people. It’s for a better future for all of us and it builds on the commitments we have made.”
Piruzza challenged the inaugural class to explore and design innovative solutions that will generate greater efficiencies in food purchase, distribution and storage to maximize the impact of the province’s student nutritional program.
“That’s one of the ministry’s programs that I am most passionate about,” Piruzza added. “It provides close to 700,000 children each year with nutritious food during the school day and it supports learning and helps them to succeed in the classroom. When I speak to agencies and go into communities, there are some challenges in how they purchase, store and distribute food for the program.
“I am charging you to apply your creativity to come up with a solution to these challenges so that we can ensure that students get the maximum benefit from this program. This is a great opportunity for you to put your creativity and apply it to an important program that’s making a difference in children’s lives every day.”
The inaugural cohort was unveiled last week at MaRS Discovery District.
Omer Ismael was scouring the Internet when he stumbled on the Studio Y opportunity.
“It comes at a perfect time since I just graduated from university,” said the L’Amoreaux Collegiate Institute alumnus who pursued development studies & political science at York University. “I aspire to work with young people and will use the skills from Studio Y to assist me with achieving my goal.”
One of six children, Ismael was born in the Greater Toronto Area to parents who fled Somalia after the 1991 civil war and settled in Saudi Arabia before making their way to Canada.
Each participant will receive $25,000 along with a living stipend and follow-on alumni support.
“We wanted to make sure that this program was available to everyone and that cost is not a barrier,” said Allyson Hewitt, the director of social entrepreneurship and social innovation senior fellow at MaRS. “It’s an exciting opportunity to create Ontario’s next generation of young innovators…As part of our mandate in accelerating innovation, we are working to create a stronger and more diverse economy and a better future for our city, province and for Canada. Social innovation has been a cross-cutting theme of ours for the past seven years…Our innovation economy calls for developing new ways of seeking out solutions surrounding many of these issues and cultivating a new type of leader who can tackle our challenges head-on.”
MaRS ventures have created nearly 4,000 jobs and, in the last three years, raised over $750 million in capital and earned approximately $375 in revenue.