Written by: ILANA REIMER
No matter how old you are, when you see a problem, you don’t have to wait for permission to make a difference. Just get up and do it. That might seem like stating the obvious – or it might feel like an impossibly difficult challenge.
However, the response can be as simple as choosing to take ownership for your city or region and asking how your small acts of service can contribute to improving quality of life for others. It doesn’t have to be a giant act; it can start with a simple little project.
YLAC itself is an example of how one small initiative grew into something far bigger. Over a year ago, a handful of friends came together with a shared dream: to build a platform where young people are equipped with the tools and connections they need to see change happen in their communities. YLAC was born out of that dream.
This attitude of looking at a problem and taking responsibility for it is at the heart of what we do. Just recently, one of our members, Eldon Holder, was presented with the United Way Ottawa Community Builder Award as an acknowledgement of the work he has done in the city – both as an individual and as a part of YLAC. The award recognizes those who work to make Ottawa a better place in which to live, work and raise a family.
While the award may have been for personal achievement, Eldon, the Chair and Director of Community Engagement, said that nothing great is accomplished by just one person. “There is always a collective of people who are working together, whether they are cheering from the sidelines or actually holding you up when you are about to fall,” he said. “And that’s what YLAC is all about. It’s working as a team and uplifting each other so we can all have success, and our community is better for it.”
For Eldon, one of the most important ways that YLAC supports community building is through its partnership with mentors. Many YLAC members are passionate about seeing change but are unsure how to do so; these mentors help point them in the right direction.
YLAC has connections with many seasoned community activists who serve as a sounding board to make sure that we’re not reinventing the wheel, but also that we’re moving forward. “We’re all standing on the shoulders of the giants that came before us,” said Eldon. “And that’s what YLAC allows you to do. It connects you connect with those giants – you build and learn from those giants – so that you can also become a giant.”
Another way YLAC builds community is through many different events such as networking socials, consultations and summits. In mid-October we helped host the CommUNITY Youth Feast to bring indigenous, black and newcomer youth together to celebrate and share their rich cultures and diverse backgrounds.
On Nov. 5, YLAC will kick off our Smart Start Ambassador tour at Brown Beauties Brunching, an event run by a Montreal organization called Four Brown Girls. The event is focused on creating a space for women to discuss solutions to issues such as gender equality, and to create a network of powerful women in Ottawa. By starting the ambassador tour there, YLAC can recruit some of the best women in the city to mentor youth during our summit in May 2018.
Each event or project that YLAC participates in seeks to unite youth and empower them to strengthen their communities. In many ways, the United Way Ottawa Community Builder Award encapsulates this focus.
“We tear down barriers within our community,” said Eldon. “We build bridges that allow young people to have a safe space to be themselves – and also to grow into the leaders of tomorrow.”