The creators of two sexual health groups for youth in the N.W.T. say the best thing about their programs is the proof in the pudding — they actually work.

"They're turning into leaders in their own communities, which has always been the goal." - Nancy MacNeill, co-founder of FOXY and SMASH

Now, Candice Lys and Nancy MacNeill, who run FOXY and SMASH, have even more proof of the value of their work, after receiving a Meritorious Service Medal from Governor General David Johnston on Thursday. 

"We're not sure who nominated us, but we can assume it's probably somebody from the North," said Lys. "And Nancy and I... think that's really special that the North has recognized the things that we've done and the contributions that we've made."

FOXY — Fostering Open eXpression among Youth — was Lys and MacNeill's first project. 

Candice Lys and Nancy MacNeill

Candice Lys and Nancy MacNeill in Ulukhaktok, N.W.T. The pair co-founded FOXY, or Fostering Open eXpression among Youth, in 2012, and then created the SMASH, or Strength, Masculinities, And Sexual Health, this past summer. (Candice Lys/Facebook)

The group runs workshops and holds retreats in an attempt to create a safe place where young girls can talk openly and learn about sexual health and healthy relationships. It also teaches them leadership skills, which MacNeill says they know pays off. 

"We hear stories of just increased confidence of young people coming back to school with... kind of more oomph behind them," she said. "They're really interested in doing well, they're interested in sharing their knowledge and they're turning into leaders in their own communities, which has always been the goal."

This isn't the first time MacNeill and Lys's work has been recognized at a national level: last year, the duo took home the $1 million Arctic Inspiration Prize. 

'It was really fun'

Grade 8 student Sunray Catholique, who lives in Lutsel K'e, N.W.T., took part in SMASH  — Strength, Masculinities, And Sexual Health — this past summer when it launched. 

He says he "really liked" SMASH and wants to take part in the program again. 

"It was really fun," he said. "We did some cool games and all that. I just want to learn more so I just know not to get the diseases."

SMASH workshop in the NWT

Young men from across the territory gathered at Blachford Lake Lodge on Great Slave Lake this summer for the first-ever SMASH peer leader retreat. (submitted by SMASH/FOXY)

MacNeill says people like Catholique are exactly why she and Lys continue to do what they do. 

"Hearing that it made sexual health interesting, that it made him really want to take care of his own health?" MacNeill said. "Yeah, that's really awesome."

This is one of seven northerners or Northern groups that received awards from the Governor General this month. CBC North will tell the story of each person and the work they've done for their community and territory.

with files from Loren McGinnis and Peter Sheldon