Introducing the fourteen 2021 RBC Spirit of the Capital Youth Awards Recipients!

The BIG moment is finally here! We’re thrilled to reveal the recipients of the 24th annual RBC Spirit of the Capital Youth Awards. The Spirit Awards is a celebration of our cities youth presented by RBC and hosted by Youth Ottawa.

Each year we acknowledge and feature the diverse ways young people are shaping their communities across our city. These youth are turning awareness into action and inspiring others to become agents of change. 

On October 27th, 2021, we will be gathering for an evening of celebration at the National Arts Centre. The Awards Gala is a youth-friendly event held in the heart of Ottawa. This year’s event will be by invite only to keep indoor event numbers low and everyone safe, but we will be live-streaming from the NAC to the public. RSVP Here.

We’re excited for you to meet this year’s recipients.

Arts and Culture

Cailyn Degrandpre (she/her)

Cailyn is a young Indigenous artist who uses her talent as a throat singer to promote information and acceptance of Inuit culture and ally with other Indigenous peoples. Before the pandemic, Cailyn and her partner would perform for various organizations and festivals. However, this year, due to the pandemic, they have not been able to continue, so she has pursued her work on social media. She has gained a following on the Tiktok app to promote culture and awareness for MMIW in this new age. She does this in a fun and lighthearted way for others to learn and enjoy virtually. 

Quote “I want to encourage the younger generations to say connected and proud of their culture and who they are.”

Yvonne Tan (she/her)

Yvonne is an incredibly inspiring individual deeply committed to making the world a better place. She is very passionate about using her art to explore her commitment to equity and social justice issues. 

After receiving the Summer Company Grant from the government of Ontario, Yvonne established an art business that evolved from commission-based work to incorporating inclusive pricing models to better reflect her ambitions. Her stunning work ranges from imaginative and inclusive artwork for board games to art pieces highlighting underrepresented communities. A true innovator, Yvonne fulfilled her dreams of marrying her passions for art and social causes by making art that both speaks to social justice issues and is accessible to individuals from all walks of life. In fact, for her commitment to the principles of social entrepreneurship, Yvonne was chosen as one of three “Success Stories” for the Summer Company program at Invest Ottawa.

Service and Caring

William Bourgault (he/him)

William is the founder of Footwear 4 Kids and is responsible for a dedicated team of 24 volunteers that work together to give back to the community. His goal is to enhance the wellness of vulnerable families, especially children and youth. Footwear 4 Kids began in August 2020 when William noticed he had an abundance of gently used shoes. He researched organizations to donate to and couldn’t find any that focused on providing footwear at no cost for kids and youth in need, so he decided to create his own. He regularly drives around at his own expense collecting footwear for others and delivering items to families in need. He has also volunteered as a victim support worker, where he assisted victims of crime and domestic violence. In addition, he serves on the Ottawa Police Youth Advisory Committee (YAC) to help strengthen police and youth relations. In addition, William currently works as a youth counsellor; he has worked with vulnerable youth and their families for two and a half years. He is an impressive leader who is motivated and has compassion for others.

Yasmine Elmi (She/her)

Yasmine is a compassionate and ambitious young woman who plays an active role in her community. As a mentor and tutor, she 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. Additionally, Yasmine is a classroom volunteer of Let’s Talk Science (LTS), where she presents science experiments for High School students inspiring their interest in science and introducing them to STEM. The BIPOC community is a big part of her identity. She is passionately involved in the community through the Somali Student Association, the Federation of Black Canadians and the TMM Student Association as a Coordinator of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. 

Academic Perseverance

Madison White (she/her)

Madison White is an exceptional young woman who 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. She often had to miss school due to her weakened immune system and had trouble understanding when she did attend.  Fast forward to Grade 12, she is graduating with excellent marks, receiving offers from both Ottawa and Carleton Universities. She inspires others through her volunteer work with the Make a Wish Foundation. Her biggest challenges have been her physical and learning disabilities. Due to her liver transplant, she is on medication for the rest of her life, suppressing her immune system. This meant that she often had to make up work or work at home when she was ill to avoid falling behind, in addition to working harder to achieve success in school. Madison is also an auditory learner, and it takes her longer to retain and understand materials. Because of this, she often had to go home and re-learn what she was taught – taking up extra hours. In the future, she would like to become a medical professional and support adolescents with their physical and mental health.

Byron McDonald (he/him)

Byron has faced family trauma, physical illness, and financial hardships head-on. He had to leave school due to his physical condition, but he was determined to keep up with his studies through all of these obstacles. Byron is a leader at his school, consistently demonstrating nothing other than positive attitudes and academic diligence. He works hard and always has a smile on his face. He stayed on the University pathway and has been accepted into Carleton University for Computer Science. He has dreams of becoming a computer scientist. His biggest challenges have been dealing with his father’s unexpected death and his illness. During his recovery, he developed a passion for developing modules for computer games. He would like to expand this learning outside the gaming world as he believes that these skills can have a meaningful benefit for others.

Quote: “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.”

Take a Stand

Amatur Raheem Salam-Alada (she/her)

Amatur Raheem is a student at South Carleton High School. After noticing that her school did not have space for Black and other racialized students to be themselves truly, she started the school’s first-ever diversity club, Appreciation of Diversity, from the ground up. This club gives 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 – once leading a school-wide assembly – and is a strong student academically. 

Her biggest challenge has been finding the confidence to put herself and her ideas forward. A few years ago, she never imagined that she could create a club and be involved in school board affairs advocating for Black and racialized students. In the future, she hopes to be a Black Muslim woman leading a medical team or holding office in local government. No matter what, she hopes that her future positions will positively impact other people’s lives.

Daniel Bersyniow (he/him)

Daniel Bersyniow is a Grade 12 student at Sir Robert Borden High School.  In 2013, he had a life-changing experience that left him wanting to do more for others – he volunteered to help a family in Cuba with a child with epidermolysis bullosa. This was the motivating factor which led him to create The Star of Life Project  with over 150 youth members worldwide, improving access to healthcare in their local communities. The group’s many accomplishments include their United Nations Associations in Canada vaccination campaign, their mental health program, which engaged over 2000 students and their most recent triumph of being able to raise over 15,000 masks for Northern Indigenous schools and communities.

After noticing that students in his school with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Down syndrome were frequently misunderstood, excluded, and only interacted with adults and teachers, Daniel started an inclusivity club called Best Buddies. Through this club, he ran weekly activities to better engage these students in the life of the school. Daniel 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.

Daniel’s many-faceted initiatives all having as their common denominator, a commitment to being of service to others, creates an inspiring vision of the future and motivates his peers to engage in it as well.

Strength through Diversity

Mikayla Lafortune (they/them)

Mikayla LaFortune is a queer and trans organizer who has given so much to the larger Ottawa queer community. As shown through their work with the Carleton University Student Association’s Gender and Sexuality Resource Centre and the Carleton Trans Advocacy Group, they demonstrate a strong commitment to breaking down barriers faced by 2SLGBTQ+ folks.

Mikayla’s work has included supporting the community internally, providing education, and advocating against institutional inequities. In providing support within the community, they have provided safe(r) spaces for queer and trans folks to build community and explore their identities. Mikayla feels strongly that peer support must be easily accessible and must take into account the unique discrimination faced by 2SLGBTQ+ folks. They have sought opportunities to learn about trauma-informed support for survivors of sexual violence, harm reduction, trans healthcare, and mental health to inform the peer support they provide. 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. They’re also deeply invested in building intergenerational connections within the queer community. The care that older queer folks have extended to them has contributed significantly to their strength and resilience in difficult times. 

The Virtual Voice

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)

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 community, magnify student voices, and inspire students to action, one story at a time. Members gather online weekly to plan each issue and include the diverse ideas and experiences of as many voices as possible. They published ten issues during the 2020-2021 school year. 

When students are challenged in making connections during the pandemic, they have worked diligently to create a range of content. They have covered topics such as Black Lives Matter, anti-Asian racism, pandemic life for people with disabilities, access to clean water for Indigenous communities, environmental issues, reviews of books by diverse authors, virtual voyages to countries all over the world, interviews with community members, study tips and tricks, photography, poetry, jokes, crosswords, horoscopes, updates on school clubs, and so much more. They welcomed and encouraged submissions from the entire OCV Secondary community and published work from over 160 student contributors throughout the year!

Entrepreneurship and Innovation

Anish Goel (he/him)

Anish’s volunteering experience throughout the community has influenced his passion in other areas. Due to encounters with homeless people and discussions with health care professionals across the country, Anish has understood how psychiatric and neurodegenerative conditions affect many families across Canada. Anish has used his volunteering experience and interest in science to create groundbreaking ideas in neuroscience. He has developed numerous proposals and has worked with faculty members from many institutions to combat these neurological conditions and understand the brain. By combining science with his vast experience in volunteering, Anish has developed innovative ideas to tackle the big problems of our century, including how the brain works and how we can all work towards social good. Additionally, Anish shares his passion for science and volunteering with other youth, inspiring students his age to make a positive difference in communities across the country through his tutoring program called GoelTutoring. 

Danial Gheiasvand (he/him)

Danial is willing to apply himself to strive for excellence in promoting diversity and inclusion in our community. He contributed to the success of others in academics and sociological circumstances. Danial is a “Java” programmer and has learned the language for a few years. He developed road navigator algorithms for essential vehicles in case of natural disasters. He has also developed related servers- simulating natural disasters to test his road navigation algorithms and enhance the trajectory taken for essential vehicles. He presented his case in a symposium, challenged his initiations at the World Robocup of Nagoya, Japan, and finished 5th, challenging other University students while he was in high school. Danial spends his time volunteering 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.

Max Keeping for Personal Courage

Celine Mbele (she/her)

Celine has had a very traumatic childhood. However, she is currently living independently and still manages to feed, clothe and get herself to school. Celine also struggles with her mental health, yet she is a strong advocate for herself and does exceptionally well in school. Growing up, she witnessed addiction and poverty; not wanting to go down a similar path settled a strong sense of ambition that made her persevere. She is most proud of having graduated high school and has been accepted into the University of Ottawa in the coming fall. She plans on completing her major in Social Work, followed by her Master’s. Ever since she was young, she was fascinated by music and hopes to one day open an art facility where youth can express themselves.

Trésor Amisi  (He/him)

Tresor is a young adult from Congo who has gone through major challenges in his life. He lived through war and poverty, without parents, before coming to Canada. Trésor stands out for its exceptional resilience and courage. Distressing circumstances marked his arrival in Canada where he went through several host families before finding stability. As a young teenager, he searched for his identity and faced many challenges. Yet he had the courage to accept with outstretched hands, opened up to others, and quietly spread his wings.

Trésor is a unifying and benevolent student within his cohort of graduates. He readily accepts to play the role of mentor to young people in his school who are experiencing difficulties. In addition, he works with young children in the MIFO program as a facilitator and caretaker at the elementary school next to his high school. Trésor has been accepted into a program at la Cité where he intends to become a social worker, in order to help his neighbours and give to others. He is an inspiring young adult who wants to make a difference in the black community. He strives for inclusion and respect for everyone.

Quote – “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. At the end of the day, my name is Trésor. I want to represent my name by being the treasure of others. ”

What's next?

On October 27th, 2021, we will be gathering for an evening of celebration at the National Arts Centre. The Awards Gala is a youth-friendly event held in the heart of Ottawa. This year’s event will be by invite only to keep indoor event numbers low and everyone safe, but we will be live-streaming from the NAC to anyone who would like to tune in. Simply RSVP Here.

A big thank you to our Media Sponsors CBC Ottawa, event hosts the National Arts Centre and Gift Sponsors Maple Wishes and Dominican University College.