Announcing the 2023 RBC Spirit of the Capital Award Recipients
Youth Ottawa is back with our 2023 RBC Spirit of the Capital Awards!
The Spirit Awards are an annual event to highlight the important work that youth in Ottawa are doing to uplift their communities. Every year since 1997, youth between the ages of 14 and 21 have impressed us with their stories of dedication, compassion, and resilience. This year is no different.
We are so excited to announce this year’s recipients: 16 inspiring youth across seven award categories. Each recipient was chosen out of a pool of over 250 applicants and their energy shone through their interviews.
Read their stories below.
Kika Csontos (she/her)
Kika is an incredible 16-year-old student and mother. She takes the challenges associated with these two identities head on. She sees these challenges as an opportunity to learn and help others through issues such as food insecurity, homelessness, and healthy living. Looking for a reliable signal to do homework in shelters and doing her work while her son is sleeping—all while having limited access to healthy food and other resources—have not stopped her from earning high marks and being on track to graduate with her peers. In fact, she plans on pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in social work upon graduation and hopes to go back to a place like St. Mary’s to support other young parents.
Jocelyn Butt (she/her)
Despite receiving a cancer diagnosis a year ago, Jocelyn continues to be a model student. She has pushed past a leg amputation and a full year of chemo while maintaining a high degree of academic excellence with bravery and a positive outlook on life. Many staff at CHEO have said they had never seen someone with such a positive spirit—doing homework while in the hospital and convincing a surgeon to complete a surgery a day earlier so she could complete a final exam—and have connected her with other oncology teens to support them. Jocelyn hopes to continue supporting people in the medical field.
“When faced with challenges throughout your life, it is so important to stay positive and view the glass as half full to help you get through those difficult times.”
Arts & Culture
Sponsored by the Michaëlle-Jean Foundation
Fatimah Karim (She/Her)
Fatimah is a dedicated volunteer who has made a significant impact in her community by helping newcomers, providing tutoring, serving meals at the soup kitchen, and empowering youth. She expresses her creativity through her paintings—primarily using watercolours—which exhibit exceptional creativity, inspiration, and a distinctive style. Fatimah’s artwork often has a narrative quality, using symbolism and storytelling techniques to communicate difficult concepts and feelings. Her extraordinary creativity and capacity for inspiration are evidence of her commitment and passion as an artist.
“The people I’ve met and worked with over the years have made me so happy and proud to do what I do. I am in such a fortunate position to be able to observe firsthand the transformative power of imagination and dedication to making a positive impact and improving our local community. We all have a role to play in creating, admiring, and sustaining the beauty of the world around us—it represents a core aspect of our humanity. I’ll always credit art for what we’ve done for each other. “
Ollie Milling (He/Him)
Ollie is a highly driven artist who is committed to mastering his craft. He attends art classes both in and outside of school, consistently practising and refining his skills. He sets ambitious goals for himself, accepts constructive criticism, and seeks out opportunities to collaborate with others while mentoring less experienced students. Ollie additionally works on entrepreneurial ventures by creating and marketing works of art for various organizations. His passion and dedication are evident in his willingness to keep pushing himself and exploring new avenues of creative expression.
“My name is Ollie and I have been creating since I can remember. In my work, I strive to represent and celebrate the diversity that is all around us. If there is one thing you take from me, it is to see people as people.”
Entrepreneurship & Innovation
Sponsored by RBC
Innostation (Group): Gabriel Bernal (He/Him), Lina Nada Maach (She/Her), Aayush Grover (He/Him)
Gabriel, Lina, and Aayush are exceptional students who are passionate about learning and are dedicated to making a positive impact in the world. In April 2022, they founded Innostation: a non-profit organization that connects like-minded students and provides resources for academic and research pursuits. They have served as mentors and teachers, inspiring and empowering the next generation of leaders and change-makers. Their commitment to accessibility and providing resources at no cost to students has made a significant impact on the community. They believe that by connecting young innovators from around the world, they can create a powerful network of individuals who are passionate about making a difference. The group plans to develop new programs and initiatives to expand their reach and impact.
“At Innostation, we love the challenge of helping young people explore topics they’re passionate about. We will continue to use Innostation as a platform to help create the best community of young, innovative people who want to create positive change and explore what the world of tech has to offer.”
Stella-Charles Fisher (She/Her)
Stella is a creative, empathetic, and resilient individual with a passion for community involvement and advocacy. Stella is dedicated to engaging with communities that matter to her. One way she does this is through providing educational resources on social inequity that resonate with young people. Stella’s passion led her to create Games For Growth, an educational resource that provides young people with data-driven information surrounding issues of inequity in Ottawa, such as food insecurity, homelessness, mental health, and more, through adaptations of classic board games. Stella was placed 2nd in the National Believe Fair and was awarded a grant and a mentor to help scale the idea. Stella has since shared her games as an open resource for any educators or youth, and has also delivered game gift baskets to many youth organizations. Stella’s project shows how providing youth with a voice, agency, and a seat at the table can have a real-world impact.
“All the work I’ve done has been built on the foundation of what I really believe in. I build projects that amplify my passions and artistic expression, serve my communities and values the work and passions of others. As an entrepreneur, I’ve scaled what innovation means to me— informing and equipping youth with the conversations and tools to create a better tomorrow.”
Max Keeping for Personal Courage
Raissa Amany (She/Her)
Raissa is a first-generation settler who knows firsthand the challenges of being an immigrant. Despite this, she is an ambitious and driven individual who uses her passions to promote health equity, STEM education, and mental health. Raissa is the Co-Executive Director and Project Lead for the Young Canadians Roundtable on Health. Passionate for mental health activism, she also serves on the youth advisory council with the Knowledge Institute for Child and Youth Mental Health and Addictions and Kids Help Phone; an advisor with the Mental Health International Youth Advisory Committee (G1G) and CAMH; and a Groundbreaker with Frayme. She also founded ConnectSTEM, an organization that connects marginalized youth in Ottawa with STEM opportunities. With her own experience navigating the complex medical system for her chronic illnesses, Raissa aspires to become a pediatrician and advocate for underrepresented populations in healthcare.
“Children’s Health has always been seen in hindsight, as Canada ranks 30th out of 38 countries when it comes to the well-being of children and youth under 18. As such, using my personal experience navigating our healthcare system, I continue to advocate for the improvement of accessibility and equity in the sector.”
Tabarak Al-Delaimi (She/Her)
Tabarak is a young woman who has found motivation in the face of discrimination and injustice—dedicated to elevating the voices of underrepresented communities. She founded the Muslim Student Association in high school and organized various equity-based events to celebrate diversity and combat stereotypes against Muslim students. Tabarak worked with mosques and other Muslim non-profits on advocacy goals in Ottawa and helped represent a young student who faced an Islamophobic assault. As a Student Trustee, she works with other elected trustees, staff members, and various community groups and councils to introduce motions to further equity within their school board. Tabarak is planning to pursue medicine or law to further her skills in helping others while continuing to assist her communities. She is dedicated to creating a better, just world for everyone.
Service & Caring
Sponsored by OSSTF
Anousheh Syed (She/Her)
Anousheh’s journey began in high school when she started volunteering as a requirement to graduate. What started as a small obligation turned into a life-changing experience that helped her discover her true calling. She co-founded Voluntunity, a youth-led non-profit that focuses on promoting diversity and inclusion by bridging gaps in the community through community service. With her leadership, Voluntunity has completed seven incredible projects, and they are currently working on their latest one, which involves community aid in preparation for the Ottawa flood season. Her compassion also extends beyond her non-profit work. She recognizes the challenges faced by the disabled and neurodivergent community, particularly because the cause is close to her heart. She has shown support and care by organizing a potluck to celebrate neurodiversity and volunteering with DEEN services to uplift and empower disabled individuals.
“I think true power lies not in our words but in our actions to create positive change in our communities. We all have an inherent responsibility to make a difference in our community, and even a small act of kindness and empathy can create a ripple effect that brings about positive change. It’s about choosing to let our actions speak louder than our words and leaving a lasting impact that inspires others to do the same.”
Darya Laali (She/Her)
Darya is a passionate and dynamic individual who works tirelessly to improve the world around her and to give a voice to those who are silenced. Growing up as a brown woman in a predominantly white area, Darya felt compelled to share the story of her father, a child soldier in Iran, and the struggles of her home country. She worked tirelessly to raise awareness of these issues, volunteering for various charities and programs, including Charter for Change programs and women’s empowerment programs. Darya is involved in various clubs, including one for world news, mental health, and disability education. Her ultimate goal is to become an international lawyer and use her skills to do good in the world. She has worked on benefit events, arranged ways to raise money, and participated in 5k walks to support various charities.
“My goal is to be a helpful hand to any and all … My time on this Earth, like everyone else, isn’t promised, so my belief is to work through my experiences and find empowerment in them. I want to give that gift to others: a chance to stand up for themselves and the issues they battle. This trait isn’t something I can take credit for. It is from my parents: people who are revolutionary in my eyes and whose stories could create waves. I am the child of people who went through ordeals like no other and fought for their place at the table. I won’t let their sacrifices and hard work be wasted. Rather, I will use it to motivate others and let them be heard.”
Strength through Diversity
Sponsored by Pomerleau
Shakerah Prince (She/Her)
Shakerah is an active member of the Ottawa community with a heart for people and social justice. She immigrated from Jamaica 10 years ago, faced challenges in adjusting to a new school system and overcoming adversity. Shakerah overcame these challenges and modeled strength in diversity, working to bring elements of diversity into her school. She organized an information fair and participated in a board-wide Black History Month video. Despite her recent diagnosis of a brain tumour, she continues to serve her community and plans to enroll in a combined LLB and BA degree at Wilfrid Laurier University.
“I am hardworking, a motivator, and a team player. I believe that no one wins unless we all win. Every day we are given is an opportunity to write our stories and to make a difference.”
Armani Reynolds (He/Him)
Armani is a passionate and selfless individual who is involved in various activities at St. Pius X High School. He is a mentorship student in the Inclusion Special Education program, one of the Black Student Association leads, and involved in the OCSB Black Student Advisory Council. Armani advocates for equity and inclusion, and collaborates with school staff to ensure that events, programming, teachings, and literature are affordable and accessible for everyone. He has also volunteered at ATC dances and took on a leadership role in planning and hosting them. Armani’s experiences as an intersectional student and being raised by a single mother fostered a sense of selflessness, independence, and ingenuity that he uses to empower others through his leadership in creating a more inclusive school culture.
“I am a dedicated advocate for diversity, inclusion, and equity. Through my experiences as a Black, queer student, I have developed a passion for giving a voice to those who are often unheard and marginalized. My goal is to work toward making positive change in the world— particularly in the realm of politics—and doing this through my role as a lead for the Black Student Association and a sitting member of the Black Student Advisory Committee.”
Take a Stand
Sponsored by Carleton University
Julia Smith (She/Her)
Julia has been a pioneer in educating other youth about the Holocaust. Upon recognizing a need for more relatable resources to reduce antisemitism in schools, she and her younger sister Sarah showed great courage by sharing the family’s story through an educational video. Julia has promoted this video locally, nationally, and internationally. It has been shared by the Center for Holocaust Education and Scholarships (chesottawa.ca). The Ottawa Carleton District School Board has linked it to their Holocaust Education teacher toolbox. It has also been shared nationally by Young Canadians Roundtable on Health ([email protected]), and on Belouga.org—an international educational platform. Already, it has impacted over 8,000 students across 300 classrooms.
“My desire to make a positive difference in the world is at the forefront of everything I do. I am the founder and President of my school’s student council and have a leadership role in the debate and model UN clubs at school. I have spoken at various conferences and events and am a member of the Young Canadian Roundtable on Health (YRCH). Activism is very important to me. So now while we have the opportunity, I believe it’s important to share survivors’ stories and document as much as we can. Hopefully, by doing this, racism and antisemitism won’t be part of my generation’s future.”
Naomi Getachew (She/Her)
Naomi is a multi-talented youth using her voice and leadership in the Black 365 Student Union to advocate for Black and biracial students. From murals and button-making, to writing a collaborative letter to Black parents on behalf of Black youth and through her spoken word, Naomi engages her peers in youth advocacy. Her visual artistry has inspired other students to get more involved in social justice and her courage in facilitating productive discussions has inspired staff members better to understand the impact of microaggressions and racism on students.
“I feel as though spoken word poetry is, in its own way, turning the liberation of your voice and story into an artwork—something you can recall years down the line and appreciate all the same.”
For 26 years, the Spirit awards have been a chance to formally gather and celebrate Ottawa youth such as these. The youth and the extravagant ceremonies always find a way of inspiring us, and we know they’ll inspire you too.
We are confident the recipients this year are positive influences in their communities all around. We can’t wait to see them all at the award gala on June 29 and you are welcome to join us!
We have some exciting things planned for this year’s ceremony, so stay tuned to learn more about it!
- Where: Shaw Centre, 55 Colonel By Drive, Ottawa, Ont.
- When: June 29, 2023
- Cocktail Hour 4:30-5:30
- Event Ceremony 5:30-7:30
- Dress code: Business formal, but feel free to dress up!
Registration is now open, and tickets are free and can be found here on Eventbrite.