Young people learn how to set goals at Ottawa summit

Josh Pennell
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Associated survey shows youth have passion to give back to communities, but need guidance

Amy and Jessica attended the Big Brothers Big Sisters/MasterCard Youth Summit in Ottawa earlier this month. — Photo By Rhonda Hayward/The Telegram

Two teens from this province say the Big Brothers Big Sisters/MasterCard Youth Summit they attended earlier this month in Ottawa was life-changing.

The summit brought together 100 young people between the ages of 15 and 19 and was designed to help the people attending define their passions and goals for the future while developing leadership skills.

It came on the heels of a national survey commissioned by Big Brothers Big Sister Canada (BBBSC) and MasterCard Canada. The survey shows that eight out of 10 teens are committed to giving back to the community. Additionally, 91 per cent of those surveyed believe young people can influence positive change.

The two delegates from this province say they’re capable of encouraging that kind of change. As per the BBBSC standard, only their first names will be used.

Jessica, 19, considers herself very lucky for the support group she already has. Her mother committed suicide when Jessica was a child and her father has been in and out of prison since he was a teenager. Jessica lived with relatives and eventually found herself in foster care.

“I eventually created a very big support group. and I consider most of my family to be psychiatrists and social workers and group home workers,” she says.

Jessica joined BBBSC to offer somebody younger the type of mentorship she has received from different groups. She shared her life story at the youth summit.  

“It was really eye-opening because we got to share our personal stories within our group, and to see that people go through similar situations,” she says.

Amy, 16, got involved in the program because she was an only child and her parents thought an older leader figure in her life would be beneficial. She says her Big Sister has been an amazing influence and the experience in Ottawa with the other young people reshaped her outlook on the future.

“They made me see the world in a different perspective,” Amy says.


The teens were selected from the Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring programs based on their strong track records of community service.

“The goals that I have set for myself, the people that were there made me want to achieve them,” says Amy. “I’d really like to help people in life. I like to challenge myself. I like to motivate others and let them know that life is about journeys and you have to take challenges in order to succeed.”

Jessica is interested in giving people a voice.  “That’s one thing that I’m really interested in is to give people the opportunity to speak and to be heard.”  

At the conference, the young people were given just that. One story that inspired Jessica was the life story of a young male there who found himself homeless and alone for close to a year. He managed to rebuild his life despite such adversity and now uses his story to inspire others.

“It’s great to see he didn’t get on the wrong track and he stayed on the right track. He believed in himself and I think that’s really powerful,” Jessica says.

Both girls say the power of words was a big aspect of the summit. The 100 youth delegates spent time with young Canadian entrepreneurs doing activities meant to inspire them to become agents of positive social change. One of the activities that illustrated the influence each individual can have involved the group sitting back on in a circle with their eyes closed. When they felt their back tapped by one of the leaders, they stood inside the circle and in turn tapped the back of anybody there who had inspired them and changed their view on life.

“That was motivating for a lot of people. It made them feel like they had potential in themselves,” says Jessica.

Amy says although they were together for just a short period, the relationships formed at the summit were for life.

“We made a lot of good friends up there that we will keep in touch (with) forever,” she says. “Just knowing you’re in this room with 20 different other people and you can trust them so much with so little time that we were there was very nice.”

And that was really part of the summit’s focus: to help youth build a nationwide support base that can help them see their goals through. The results of the national survey, which were used to spark conversations at the summit, found that nearly half of teenagers — 44 per cent — believe they are prevented from making a difference simply because no one listens to them

“I think everyone can help change the world,” says Amy. “Everyone needs motivation to succeed.”

Also in the national survey, 92 per cent of young people polled said they believe that influencing positive change in communities should be a priority for all Canadians, including teenagers. Ninety-three per cent think individuals have the power to shape the future if they choose to get involved and almost eight in 10 believe they are responsible for creating a better future.

Amy and Jessica agree one of the struggles that faces young people today is defining themselves, and that’s necessary to be able to facilitate a positive influence on society.

“It’s really hard to stand out and be yourself, says Jessica. “I just find that it’s a challenge within yourself to try and step out and be who you are and to get people to realize you are different from everybody else.”

People need a support group, they say. Almost nine in 10 — 89 per cent — of teenagers surveyed believe teens with a parent or adult mentor who sets a strong example of community service are more likely to become socially engaged than those without role models.

“Reaching out to people is the most important thing that you’ll ever do in your life because you realize that there are so many people to lean on and there are so many people there for you,” says Jessica.

The Ipsos Reid survey was conducted between March 5 and March 11, 2013.

A sample of 502 Canadian teenagers, aged 16-19, from Ipsos’ Canadian online panel were interviewed.

Organizations: Big Brothers Big Sisters, MasterCard Youth Summit, MasterCard Canada Ipsos Reid

Geographic location: Ottawa, Canada

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Recent comments

  • Chantal
    April 23, 2013 - 08:37

    I think the real hero here is Master Card. Master Card -- a company that cares.