Meet Ottawa's young changemakers
Introducing this year's Spirit of the Capital Youth Award recipients
Each year, Youth Ottawa hosts the Spirit of the Capital Youth Awards to recognize the incredible accomplishments of youth in Ottawa.
CBC Ottawa is proud to be an annual media sponsor of the awards and to celebrate the young people whose passion and dedication continue to make a positive difference in our community and the world.
Meet the next generation of young Ottawa changemakers.
Bios submitted by Youth Ottawa were shortened and edited for clarity by CBC Ottawa.
Award: Academic Perseverance
Madison White (she/her), 17. Attends: Cairine Wilson Secondary School
Madison White has overcome many challenges with health and learning from a young age. Not only did she survive cancer and a liver transplant, but she has also battled the effects of Cerebral Palsy throughout her academic journey. On top of health conditions, White is also an auditory learner, meaning she has to work extra hours to understand the course material.
"I would like to become a medical professional and support adolescents with their physical and mental health," says White. "I recognize that I would not be where I am today without the tremendous support of the medical professionals in my life. I feel honoured that I have been so well cared for, so I hope to be able to make a positive impact and help youth one day."
Byron McDonald (he/him), 20. Attends: Richard Pfaff Alternate Program
Byron McDonald has faced family trauma, physical illness, and financial hardships head-on. From dealing with his father's unexpected death to leaving school due to physical conditions. But he was determined to keep up with his studies with a positive attitude. During his recovery, he grew a passion for developing modules for computer games and will be attending Carleton University for computer science come the fall.
"I would like to continue being a positive contribution to the world around me and will continue looking for ways to do this. One way will be to follow my passion and use it to serve others," says McDonald.
Award: Strength through Diversity
Mikayla Lafortune (they/them). Attends: Carleton University
Mikayla LaFortune is a queer and trans organizer who has demonstrated a strong commitment to breaking down barriers faced by 2SLGBTQ+ folks through their work with the Carleton University Student Association's Gender and Sexuality Resource Centre and the Carleton Trans Advocacy Group.
Lafortune's work has included supporting the community internally, providing education, and advocating against institutional inequities. They have also presented in various community spaces to educate non-2SLGBTQ+ leadership about the realities of 2SLGBTQ+ oppression and ways that they can practice allyship.
The Virtual Voice (Group). Attend: Ottawa Carleton Virtual Secondary School
The Virtual Voice is a dedicated group of high school student volunteers from the Ottawa-Carleton Virtual Secondary School (OCV). They established OCV News: The Virtual Voice, an innovative online student newspaper that aims to inform and entertain the school community, magnify student voices, and inspire students to action.
Members gather online weekly to plan each issue with topics ranging from Black Lives Matter, anti-Asian racism, pandemic life for people with disabilities, and more. During the 2020-2021 academic year, they published ten issues featuring over 160 student contributors.
The newspaper gave students a sense of community, provided support during a virtual year, improved their writing confidence, shared stories, and raised voices around equity issues.
Members: Amira Abdo (she/her), Enes Aydin (he/him), Grace Catton (she/her), Jessie Deng (she/her), Owen Duncan (he/him), Talia Freedhoff (she/her), Zihan Hoque (he/him), Antong Hou (he/him), Milind Kumar (he/him), Fawaz Kurd (he/him), Lauren MacKay (she/her), Aaya Mahdi (she/her), Daria Maystruk (she/her), Mai Nguyen (she/her), Justin Petrin (he/him), Rukia Rashid (she/her), Ameera Sharhan (she/her), Joy Shen (she/her) Xuefeng Shi (she/her), Ambika Singh (she/her), Emily Sinkinson (she/her), Allison Soler (she/her), Caroline Soler (she/her), Isabella Wong (she/her), Tina Xia (she/her), Abeed Zaman (he/him).
Award: Arts and Culture
Cailyn Degrandpre (she/her), 16. Attends: Lester B Pearson
Cailyn Degrandpre is a young Indigenous artist who uses her talent as a throat singer to promote information and acceptance of Inuit culture and other Indigenous peoples. During the pandemic, she's been promoting culture and awareness for Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women on the infamous app, TikTok.
"I want to encourage the younger generations to stay connected and proud of their culture and who they are," says Degrandpre.
Yvonne Tan (she/her), 20. Attends: Queen's University
After receiving the Summer Company Grant from the government of Ontario, Yvonne Tan established an art business that speaks both to social justice issues and encourages girls and women to pursue leadership positions in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).
Her work ranges from imaginative and inclusive artwork for board games to art pieces highlighting underrepresented communities. Tan was chosen as one of three "Success Stories" for the Summer Company program at Invest Ottawa. She is currently writing and illustrating a book about women in STEM fields.
Award: Entrepreneurship and Innovation
Anish Goel (he/him), 17. Attends: Lisgar Collegiate Institute
Anish Goel is an avid volunteer in the community. Due to encounters with homeless people and discussions with health care professionals across the country, Goel has understood how psychiatric and neurodegenerative conditions affect many families across Canada. From there, he has developed numerous proposals and has worked with faculty members from many institutions to combat these neurological conditions and understand the brain. Additionally, he has a tutoring program called GoelTutoring where he combines his passion for science and volunteering with other youth, inspiring students his age to make a positive difference in communities across the country.
"My goal is to translate my passion for research into something that can advance social good," says Goel.
Danial Gheiasvand (he/him), 18. Attends: Glebe Collegiate Institute
Danial Gheiasvand is a "Java" programmer and developed road navigator algorithms for essential vehicles in case of natural disasters. He presented his research at a World Robocup in Nagoya, Japan, and finished 5th, challenging other University students while he was in high school. In his spare time, Gheiasvand volunteers at the Ottawa Community Immigration Services, assisting newcomers and visible minorities who encounter linguistic and cultural barriers. In the future, he plans on attending medical school and becoming a family physician to provide support and dignity to the diverse population of Canada.
"Youth entrepreneurs are considered to be an essential primary part of society. However, in many instances, their abilities can be undermined and placed at lower écheles due to their age. This should not deviate young entrepreneurs from arising discourse and sharing their voice as one's capability is not defined by their age or experience," says Gheiasvand.
Award: Take a Stand
Amatur Raheem Salam-Alada (she/her), 16. Attends: South Carleton High School
Amatur Raheem started her school's first-ever diversity club, Appreciation of Diversity, giving BIPOC students a place to share their stories, be proud of who they are, and make a noticeable difference in students' self-esteem and confidence. In addition to creating this club, she is a leading member of the student government and the school's Black History Month activities and is a strong student academically.
Her teachers describe her as "the perfect candidate to be the voice of our future."
Daniel Bersyniow (he/him), 18. Attends: Sir Robert Borden High School
Daniel Bersyniow has many-faceted initiatives to motivate peers to help others. He created The Star of Life Project which has over 150 youth members worldwide, improving access to healthcare in their local communities. The group's accomplishments include their United Nations Associations in Canada vaccination campaign, their mental health program, and raising over 15,000 masks for Northern Indigenous schools and communities.
Bersyniow also started an inclusivity club called Best Buddies that runs weekly activities to better engage students with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Down syndrome in the life of the school. He then started The Wishing Star Project, creating year-round opportunities for youth with Autism and Down syndrome to participate in sports, crafts, and cooking classes. This project also runs activities with young people to break down stereotypes and address common misconceptions about people with physical and mental disabilities.
Award: Max Keeping for Personal Courage
Celine Mbele (she/her), 17. Attends: St. Matthew Catholic High School
Celine Mbele grew up witnessing addiction and poverty. When she was 15, her mother kicked her out and is currently living independently. Although she struggles with her mental health, she is a strong advocate for herself and does exceptionally well in school.
"I have many other future goals and projects I would love to bring to life. I plan to complete my Social Work majors, followed by my Masters, to open an art facility where youth can express themselves," says Mbele. "Expression is the way of life, and for me, music is the way I express myself."
Trésor Amisi (Il/lui), 18. Attends: Collège catholique Mer Bleue
Tresor Amisi is a young adult from Congo where he lived through war and poverty, without parents. His arrival in Canada was marked with distressing circumstances as he went through several host families before finding stability. Now, he's a mentor at his school and works as a facilitator and caretaker for children at the elementary school next to his high school.
"For the future, I want to help my people, especially my grandmother. I have so many dreams, but one is to be there for people with depression. My name is Trésor. I want to represent my name by being the treasure of others," says Amisi.
Award: Service and Caring
William Bourgault (he/him), 21. Attends: Algonquin College
William Bourgault is the founder of Footwear 4 Kids, overseeing a dedicated team of 24 volunteers that work together to give back to the community by collecting footwear donations. His volunteer experiences include assisting victims of domestic violence, helping to strengthen police and youth relations on the Ottawa Police Youth Advisory Committee (YAC), and works as a youth counsellor.
"I believe that every child deserves a good pair of shoes, and I want to support as many children, youth and their families here in the City of Ottawa who may require footwear," says Bourgault. "I want to continue volunteering and wish to identify other possible gaps in the social services system. I want to advocate for other young adults who may have great ideas but might not be ready to come forward without encouragement."
Yasmine Elmi (She/her), 20. Attends: University of Ottawa
As a mentor and tutor, Yasmine Elmi works with youth, advocates for mental health as a peer educator, and volunteers at the Queensway-Carleton Hospital. Currently enrolled at the University of Ottawa studying Molecular Medicine, her goal is to pursue a career in medicine and research while encouraging youth to enter STEM programs.
"It is extremely important for me to play an active role in bridging the gap in diversity in graduate studies. I want to encourage more youth in STEM, bringing more diversity into the field and thus driving change," says Elmi.