By Anjali Dhaliwal
I feel the cool breeze against my cheeks. I scan the vibrant crowd, as 30 young community leaders compete in a leadership development exercise with the ultimate goal of getting to know one another. One of which sneaks up behind me to embrace me in a hug and say “Thank you. Thank you for organizing all this. Thank you for mentoring me and all the opportunities you gave me this past year with Youth Helping Youth.” I only smile.
I often looked for enrichment programs to fill my time. Attending an inner-city public school classroom, situated in a low-income community left me unable to afford many programs or them being so far away and having no way to get there. When I spent close to 20 hours a week crowd surfing, I finally discovered opportunities.
One of the opportunities that I am most thankful for finding is YELL Canada. YELL has provided me with REAL-LIFE education and skills that none of my school classes were able to. Through the program I was immersed in a community of like-minded peers (some of which I worked on community projects with) and entrepreneurs. Through YELL, I was able to connect with professionals across Canada in several different industries. YELL Canada is a unique, one of a kind program. I have never seen another program quite like it.
Through interactions with my peers in school and extracurricular activities, I quickly realized that my struggles with access to opportunities were similar to theirs. I was not alone. I began surveying and researching more about this issue. It turned out that this is a prevalent issue in today’s society. As the Government of Canada states, “Youth who volunteer at least one hour a week are half as likely to engage in destructive behaviours.” I relate to this statistic through the low-income community I live in. I often encounter at-risk youth engaging in destructive behaviours in my school community, classmates in group projects, nearby neighbourhoods, and the streets of Whalley (Surrey) I use to walk to school.
Learning this, I wanted to change the discrepancy of opportunities available to underprivileged communities in contrast to well-developed areas such as Vancouver or Toronto. I reached out to local city governments and social impact organizations. But no one took me, the sixteen-year-old teen seriously.
In 2019, I took a chance and single-handedly established a non-profit organization called Youth Helping Youth (YHY) on the values of inclusion, community, leadership, innovation, and service. YHY’s mission is supporting disenfranchised youth in low-income communities by providing opportunities (such as paid jobs, internships, conferences, workshops, etc.) they need to succeed in today’s world. These opportunities are promoted through our social media platforms (Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn and an ever-growing email list).
When I first started, I had no idea how to start, run, or effectively maintain a non-profit. This was especially difficult since I had no prior networking or business experience and felt uncomfortable reaching out and showing vulnerability to strangers. But I swallowed my feelings of trepidation and created a LinkedIn profile for reaching out.
Creating a LinkedIn profile was one of the many things that I was encouraged to do within my YELL experience; and I am so happy that I did. Creating a LinkedIn has allowed me to connect to a greater number of professionals then I otherwise would be able to and find mentors to help me on my nonprofit journey.
It was through these connections that I was able to register for non-profit status, gather a team of highly invested individuals, grow my network, and learn successful biweekly team bonding exercises to facilitate a positive work environment.
Through the expansion of my non-profit, I became the visionary leader. I actively lead a global team of over 100 youth, initiated over five large-scale events, grew a social following of over 5,000, was featured on 40+ media platforms and expanded to chapters across Canada. Furthermore, I interviewed & hand-selected all YHY onboarding, handled organizational cash flow, created legal documents (contracts, termination letters, receipts, meeting notes, etc), applied for grants, learnt to use Quickbooks, led bi-weekly meetings, developed community partnerships, attended networking events, spoke at countless conferences, handled organizational outreach, designed sponsorship packages and worked on team development. I have never before learnt the value of strong communication, time-management and organization, as I had through YHY.
YHY supports the United Nations’ sustainability goals for Quality Education, Sustainable cities & communities and Climate Action. This organization also initiates events that do not currently exist in the community like a University Information Panel, Opportunity Fairs and Mental Wellness Workshops. Of the 447 youth who have attended our workshops, 94% believe that they have been positively impacted for their future endeavours.
YHY has received overwhelming support from the Government of Canada, University of British Columbia, local business and banks. Within the last year, YHY has reached over 700 youth in-person and over 20,000 weekly through social media. YHY’s socials have an engagement rate of 30% whereas the national average is 2.5%.
My proudest project however is the Mental Wellness Workshops. I presented these workshops at the University of British Columbia’s Student Leadership Conference in 2020; known to be the largest student-led conference in North America catered towards university graduates and professors across the province. Not only was I chosen to run a workshop for the most competitive category: (un)cover vulnerability, I became the first high school student to ever run a workshop for the sixteen-year-old conference. I taught individuals that sometimes mental illness can start young and it’s okay to request assistance. I was motivated to help others in the vulnerable community through the challenges that I encountered. Through serving others, I was able to own my individual story and understand my purpose. The success of our workshops led to a partnership with the Surrey School District – presenting these workshops to countless classrooms.
Most recently, with the COVID-19 pandemic panic hitting our communities hard, YHY started several initiatives to help youth in need. For one, educating the public on the issue and providing resources for those that are struggling with their mental wellbeing. Secondly, YHY recently launched a campaign promoting opportunities for youth to stay engaged at home while following WHO Health regulations. These opportunities include scholarships, spaceship projects through NASA, free Ivy League school courses, free audible audiobooks, live webinars, volunteering online through United Nations and several other opportunities to keep youth busy in such precedent times. Finally, we are collaborating with other youth organizations in BC for the COVID-19 Relief Fund. The goal is to raise over $100,000 in funds to provide PPE to workers in senior care homes. Currently, we have fundraised for over 30,000 masks. These masks are arriving on April 14th, 2020. YHY will help with promoting the initiative, raising funds, distributing the PPE, and assembling the packages.
I began to help others through the challenges that I faced and used my experiences to help others find comfort in their times of darkness. Through helping others, I was able to empower myself, own my own story and the narrative, and most importantly speak my truth.
Through YHY, I hope to further strengthen the community programs for at-risk adolescence, revamp social platforms to reach more teens and assist youth-led initiatives.
It was through YELL Canada and all the lessons that I learnt within the program that allowed me to achieve as much as YHY has in under two years. YELL taught me about the importance in networking with like-minded peers at events, taught me all the business fundamentals and business terminology. I knew that after my YELL experience that business and entrepreneurship is the right career path for me.
If it was not for YELL and the confidence that I gained within the program, I would have been pursing a completely different career path.
Even after the YELL Canada classroom program, they provide a variety of opportunities for YELL alumni to continue on their entrepreneurship journeys – ranging from sharing opportunities, special offerings, connectin with a growing community of youth leaders, events, and so much more. YELL Canada has been a REAL game changer for my personal growth and development.
I once again feel the chilly breeze. Brought back to reality, I notice a sea of youth running my way. The first volunteer group were finished the scavenger hunt and eager to take home first. I beam like the sun above us as I make my way towards my team.