This little red truck across the province inspiring kids in schools, Motivate Canada has since reached over 2 million young people across Canada and abroad, incubating and delivering numerous leadership development initiatives for youth, by youth, and becoming one of the most effective and innovative networks for change in the country.
Since its inception in 1994 as the Esteem Team, Motivate Canada has worked in partnership with like-minded organizations, including the Ray-Cam Cooperative Centre and Britannia Community Services Centre in Vancouver, to make a difference and enrich the lives of young people and their communities. Grounded in more than two decades of research, development and piloting programs, Motivate Canada has incubated a proven methodology to engage Canadian youth in their own personal development and the development of their communities through the power of positive youth role models, youth innovation, and sport and physical literacy.
Founder and Olympic Wrestler, Chris Wilson, created the Esteem Team program when he developed a desire to give back to the community. He set-off across BC sharing the story of his life with thousands of youth – the hardships, achievements, struggles and the glory, to engage and motivate them to set and achieve their goals. The Esteem Team has since been one of Motivate Canada’s core national programs and has expanded to a roster of over 80 Olympic, Paralympic and National Level athletes who continue to share the message of S.M.A.R.T. goal setting, in addition to other messages centered on positive youth development.
In 2001 Lisa Ling, former Karate World Champion and fellow Esteem Team role model, grew the mandate of the organization to include an emphasis on Youth-Driven Development, inspiring the incubation of two new national initiatives: ACTIVATE National Youth Leadership Forums (2004) and the GEN7 Indigenous Youth Role Model program (2005). From a pioneering Olympian to a national charitable organization, Motivate Canada has since focused on Youth Driven Development™ – an innovative framework for youth empowerment and leadership that has three proven concepts:
Positive Youth Development Young people as problem solvers, not problems to be solved Youth Engagement Adults Let go, allowing young people to run the show Community-Driven Development Communities decide how to spend resources to help themselves Enter Lauren Powell (pictured above), a second-year Biology student at the University of Victoria and a prime example of the magic of youth-driven development.
In 2015, the summer before her grade 12 year, Lauren (featured in image above) attended a Motivate Canada ACTIVATE Leadership Forum in Vancouver. Over the course of three days, Lauren was given the tools, knowledge and encouragement, but most importantly, she was given a voice to put together a Community Action Project with the intention of running the initiative in her community centered around Britannia Secondary School and Community Centre. That initiative became known as Girls Got Game, and with the help of a few volunteers, Lauren’s action plan became reality.
Girls Got Game introduces girls in grades 4-7 to sports not offered at their school and that are typically not accessible to those with financial barriers, such as yoga, skating, swimming and self-defense. Lauren was able to identify a need in her community and used the assets available to her when others may not have been as resourceful or optimistic. The program would not have been possible without the support, cooperation and resources of the Britannia Community Centre Services and staff. Indeed, the unique partnership and collaborative model that governs the educational, recreational, library and social services of the 17 acre complex is key to the success of this new program. Instead of a operating as a silo, the locally elected Board of Management uses a coordinated approach which is perfect for programs envisaged by the community for the community.
When asked about how her life has changed since attending ACTIVATE, Lauren attributes the Forum for where she is at today. As one of 20 students in Canada who received a full-ride scholarship thanks to the TD Leadership Scholarship Fund, she says “every day I wake up and get an education not worried about debt, or not being able to afford it. Without creating Girls Got Game, with the help and motivation from ACTIVATE, I am unsure of what my life today may look like as, I come from a single mother household with low income.” Needless to say, Lauren has shared the gift of youth-driven development with peers in her community as the Girls got Game initiative lives on even in her absence.
The GEN7 Indigenous Youth Role Model Program is another youth-driven initiative of Motivate Canada that trains Indigenous youth on how to be a mentor/role model and how to engage other Indigenous youth in healthy living and the development of life skills. It builds self-esteem, leadership capacity, community-connectedness and resiliency in the Indigenous youth who become GEN7 Messengers, and they in turn use the power of sport and physical activity to educate and develop life skills in the youth they engage with in their communities. The use of peer mentors has been validated as an extremely effective way to support Indigenous youth in the development of skills and competencies necessary to succeed in life.
GEN7 Role Models are Indigenous youth between the ages of 18-30. They are elite or life-long athletes with a strong background working with young people and are well connected with their culture and traditions. They are role models who are recruited, selected and trained to inspire other Indigenous youth through the sharing of personal experiences. One of the program’s most recent participants, Skylar Hookimawillillene, has an inspiring story of courage and resiliency that many young people, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike can relate to, and learn from.
Within Attawapiskat First Nation, Skylar is a beacon of light. The 20 year old student has known hard times but he is choosing a path to better things. Shortly before Skylar was to attend his first Motivate Canada Forum in 2016, his 12 year old sister tragically ended her life. “I felt hopeless, like there was nowhere to go, no one to talk to. I lost my confidence and started having anxiety attacks.” Many people would crumble under these circumstances but he pressed on, vowing to help those around him. Skylar, along with two other youth from Attawapiskat, were selected to attend an ACTIVATE National Forum in Ottawa. According to Skylar, ever since his experience with Motivate Canada it has, “really boost me up in my confidence, boost me up in my spirit, letting me know that there’s hope out there.”
Skylar returned to Attawapiskat and started to put his new skill set and resources to use, informally engaging the youth in his community by inviting them to join him for walks and announcing on social media when there would be an open gym. In June 2016, he was trained at a GEN7 Regional Gathering at ACTIVATE Nishnawbe Aski Nation in Atikokan, Ontario. From there, he was selected to attend the Regional Gathering in Timmins, ON where he was a youth mentor, leading various workshops and sessions. “It felt like I was finally a part of something.” Skylar is now working to implement a basketball program in Attawapiskat for his peers. For more of Skylar’s story, please check out his video.
Motivate Canada’s new CEO, Lisa Kwiatkowski, shares her vision for the future of Motivate Canada and Youth-Driven Development:
“When we think about leadership or role models, we often think about the “elite” who have rightfully earned their place after years of perseverance and perspiration, to reach the top of that podium. But when I think about Chris, Lisa, Ian, Lauren and Skylar – while their accomplishments are certainly remarkable – what is even more powerful for me is that they made a choice to use their voice and use their experience to make their communities a better place for other youth while they are young themselves. Where we often miss the mark in the design and delivery of youth programming, is not putting the youth out front from the very beginning. What happens when adults let go? What happens when we unlock the innovation potential that youth have in abundance (and quite frankly we lose over time)? In 24 years of operation, we’ve learned that our communities become more vibrant. Youth become more resilient. They learn to trust themselves. And they learn that their contributions are vital, not just token.”
Lindsay Done is the Ontario Program Manager for Motivate Canada and holds degrees in Health Promotion, Education and is currently completing her Masters in Public Health. She is passionate about positive youth development, specifically, how the sfsocial determinants influence child and adolescent health. Outside of the office, she enjoys running, playing basketball and spending time with her husband and two sons.