The New OYEC

So you want to know about the new OYEC...

Before she was the program coordinator of the Ottawa Youth Engagement Committee (OYEC), Alia Farhat was a coordinator at the Overbrook Community Association’s Planning and Development Committee. Alia first came into contact with Youth Ottawa through our Executive Director Jesse Card and Larry Ring, as they were working with youth on the RUN (Rise Up Now Centre) in Overbrook. With her long commitment to community involvement, Alia was invited to oversee the relaunch of OYEC.

The Ottawa Youth Engagement Committee is a for-youth-by-youth team responsible for guiding civic action within the city. Governmental leaders take these discussions into consideration when making decisions for the future of the city. It was first established as a Youth Summit when Mayor Jim Watson was first elected, partnering Youth Ottawa with the City of Ottawa. We are so grateful that the City continues to fund this project, allowing youth voices to be heard.

Our three core mandates:

In the past, OYEC has worked with Ottawa Public Health to organize a city-wide youth sexual education & resource summit. They have also worked with Councillor Mathieu Fleury to secure accessible recreational activities and spaces for cultural practices for Indigenous youth. 

We are returning this team into action with the help of YouthNet, a mental health promotion and intervention organization. Youth have already started their work in pushing forward the proclamation for National Youth Week.

House 2022
“I think it’s important because I think everyone needs a helping hand in life and it’s much more easier when everyone kind of assists in that process, my community involvement is more specific to youth and I just think the next generation can learn from our mistakes and grow to have a better future”
Alia Farhat
OYEC Program Coordinator

There are two different roles that youth can apply for: Youth Leaders and Youth Network Members. Youth Leaders meet monthly to discuss various topics with community leaders and City officials. Applicants are selected for these positions, as there is limited space and a priority to ensure there is diverse representation within the group. On the other hand, spots are unlimited when applying to become a member of the OYEC Network, as OYEC is looking to involve thousands of Ottawa youth in this group. These members are put onto our newsletter to get other opportunities such as invitations to special events and invitations to contribute to specific subcommittees of OYEC. 

“[OYEC is] not necessarily like an overhead organization dictating the schedules and the action plans that the government wants,” Alia said. “We’re just providing a platform for youth to engage with one another and we are providing them with whatever resources they need to see their actions progress, or have their actions followed-through.”

Generally, OYEC is a one-year commitment but could be extended for two additional years. 

Those who are successful in their application may request that their work count towards their 40 required volunteer hours, and those who are accepted into a leadership position may apply to receive up to $100 a month.


    • Youth between the ages of 15-24 
    • Current resident in the City of Ottawa 
    • Be enthusiastic, passionate and proactive about making a difference 
    • Be committed to attending meetings regularly (1-2 meetings per month) for a period of 1 year (possibility to extend) 
    • Be a good team player – have the ability to work within a team with fairness, integrity and respect for others 
    • *Be willing to actively participate in OYEC by bringing new ideas, providing constructive input and helping with fair decision-making 
    • Youth who complete the application survey and/or are recommended by a community organization as a youth representative who can meet the above criteria 
    • Be available for special events and advocate for YouthNet and Youth Ottawa as a community ambassador.

Alia said she is hoping youth will learn about municipal government processes and other ways to engage with the community to have their voices heard. 


“Current policies are quite outdated,” she said. “It’s just not as welcoming to certain populations, certain demographics, more specifically to youth even though it kind of affects them in their life.”

“There’s no way of creating action without taking the first step.”
- Alia Farhat

Interested in OYEC?

Take your first step and apply for either a leadership position or a youth network position today!

To learn more about OYEC and our community guidelines, click here!

Youth Week Recap

Code Red Project at Youth Action Showcase

Our First Youth Week

A Recap

In 2022, our Ottawa Youth Engagement Committee proposed the proclamation of National Youth Week to city council members. With the help of supporters like Rawlson King, it has been officially recognized in Ottawa, following the steps of several other cities like Toronto. 

This year, National Youth Week took place from May 2 to May 8. Here is an overview of all of the events that happened:

Monday, May 2 - 9-11AM: Youth Action Showcase

To start the week off, we showcased our past ACI projects, with several city councillor members in attendance. Some of the amazing projects done by students included city models, community gardens, and homeless shelters made out of shipping containers. 

Code Red Project at Youth Action Showcase
Community Garden Project

Monday, May 2 - 6-9PM : Live AMP Series @ SAW Gallery

The Artistic Mentorship Program (AMP) provides young artists with guidance and resources to navigate the creative industry. We provide musicians with stages and professional recordings, artists with places to showcase their work, and so much more. 

Youth Ottawa hosted its first AMP event at the National Art Centre in February 2020. The program was then put on hold throughout the pandemic, but it has finally made a return

Our first live AMP series event of the year, hosted by our Artistic Mentorship Coordinator, Angelo Leo, saw a great turnout Monday night at the SAW Gallery. At the front of the gallery stood go-karts created by Ottawa artist Matteo Bongarzone. Other artists lined the perimeter of the gallery, from psychedelic paintings to a fashion and volunteering brand called Allez. 

What’s a celebration without some music? Alongside our visual artists, young musicians took to the stage. All of their songs blessed our ears and raised our spirits after almost two years without live concerts! Each artist owned the stage in their own way with their personality.


First, the dreamy Oddeline performed several of her own original songs. Her voice was a blend of folksy and ethereal that first transported us to a different realm, then brought us back to Earth with her lyrics. Not only was her voice amazing, but her music is also bilingual: singing a song in Portuguese near the end of her set.

Wool Fearz

Wool Fearz, our next musician, was as much of a performer as he was a DJ. He describes himself as “fleecy and ferocious”: with techno hip-hop beats and dance moves that belong at an even larger stage. We loved his upbeat energy and use of lighting, and his natural and futuristic sounds that told a story!

Anthony Kubelka

The Beatles should watch out: Anthony Kubelka is an up-and-coming pianist we had the pleasure of hearing perform. Not only is he a musician, but he is also an educator, improviser, and composer with experience in funk, blues, big band, and a big focus on jazz.

Truly K

Next in our line-up—after a small technical issue—was an R&B artist called Truly K, who took the stage with her drummer. Her music was soothing and melodic, mentally taking audiences to a cool summer evening in the big city. She certainly made us reminisce about the past and the future with her lyrics, rewarding us with an encore of her song entitled “My Truth”!

T. Chandy

Finally, we had the pleasure of hearing Sri-Lankan-born rapper/producer, T. Chandy, perform. He is leaving his mark on hip hop and draws inspiration from artists like J. Cole, Childish Gambino, and OutKast. Afrosoul artist KAR33M joined his set with his narrative-style music. The energy was impeccable: what a way to close out the night!

We would also like to thank our partner company: Hot Shoe Productions for streaming the event for us. These youth got a professional recording of their performances, and they look awesome! Check out the lighting and sound quality for yourself! 


We are so thankful for Angelo Leo for working with us to provide all artists with the opportunities they need to become successful in a vast industry. We’re excited to have been able to bring it back with support from the SAW Gallery.  We hope to continue our live AMP series with an event every month, showcasing more young talent with even better outcomes. However, we can’t make this happen without the support of our community. If you are interested in supporting the future of these events through sponsorship or contributions please contact [email protected]

Check it out for yourself!

May 3-6th, every night: Infringefest at the Arts Court

Throughout the week, Youth Infringement put on a festival featuring Cailey Marwood, John Swayty, Brooke Shaw & Carter Hickey. We were honoured to support them and attend their events.

Friday, May 6: Mayor for a Day, City Hall

Samantha Benes and Dayna Xiao, two ninth-grade students from Merivale HS, were selected by Youth Ottawa and the City of Ottawa to spend the day with our mayor, Jim Watson. They got to have breakfast and lunch with the mayor, as well as handle interviews from the press and test out the LRT simulator. 

The Mayor for a Day contest has been running since 2017 as a way to promote youth engagement in municipal politics and civic issues. The contest began as part of Youth Ottawa’s OYEC initiative, partnered with the City of Ottawa and Mayor Jim Watson’s office. As a whole, OYEC—also known as the Ottawa Youth Engagement Committee—aims to engage young people in conversations where they are so often left out. By having students chosen to spend a day with the mayor, they are able to have their voices and ideas heard to make Ottawa a better city. Though the program was put on hold for 2020-2021, we are grateful to have reintroduced the amazing contest this year. 

Samantha focused on urban sprawl in her application: pushing more sustainable transportation and housing to alleviate Ottawa’s dependence on carbon emissions from cars. 

Meanwhile, Dayna focused on spreading awareness about discrimination and connecting with the community through small-scale events. 

However, both agreed this opportunity was a great way to kick-start their political careers.

 “I mainly saw this opportunity as a way to connect more deeply with our community,” Dayna said. “As soon as I saw this opportunity come up on Instagram I immediately knew that I had to apply just because it was a great way to become more immersed in what was going on right now, especially in Ottawa just because I see less opportunities like this, so as soon as I saw it I immediately wanted to apply.”

They both said the day exceeded their expectations.

“Just being there with the mayor and so many council members and getting to see how the decisions are made in our city, that in of itself was super interesting and a great opportunity,” Samantha said.

“Having this diversity in our day: we got to see the art gallery, we got to go to the OC Transpo simulation, and I just got exposed to so many different aspects of our culture in Ottawa and I think that was really cool,” Dayna added.

We hope to continue giving our youth more chances like these to make a difference! If you’re a young person and would like to participate next year, here’s some advice from the two former Mayors for a Day!

Advice from the former Mayors for a Day:

Saturday, May 7 - 9:30AM: OYEC Open House Tour

To close off Youth Week, we decided to highlight the group that made this all possible. Our Ottawa Youth Engagement Committee helped propel the proclamation of Youth Week in Ottawa forward and were thus invited to City Hall for an Open House Tour. A group of 12 youth and our staff had a candid conversation about community engagement with the mayor, and got a behind-the-scenes look at the government building!

See what people were saying

A bigger and better future

In the upcoming months, we will continue to host Live AMP Series events. Next year, we hope to showcase even more amazing and innovative projects at our Youth Action Showcase.

The events that happened this year are just the tip of the iceberg. We are hoping to make next year’s Youth Week even grander and hope you will join us! 

Are you a community organization focused on youth engagement and want to help out? Youth Ottawa is looking for partners to amplify next year’s lineup of events and we want you to be part of it! 

The RUN Centre

The new Gil o Julien Fieldhouse scoreboard, funded by councillors Rawlson King and Tim Tierney

The "Rise Up Now" Project

Generational Transformation, One Step at a Time

We’ve all heard the words “baby steps.” Determined yet wobbly steps, taken by unsure feet are all that it takes to create full-scale change. This is what we’re all about here at Youth Ottawa. We believe that actions, no matter how small, could add up to large-scale transformations.

This story all began with a video and an Instagram message.

In 2020, The Ottawa Community Foundation awarded Youth Ottawa a one-time “Emergency Community Support Grant” so they could adapt their programs to a virtual delivery method. As a result, in the spring of 2021 and in the height of the third wave of COVID-19 with schools transiting to remote learning once again, Youth Ottawa released their new Community Challenge videos as part of their Active Citizen Initiative (ACI). In one of the videos, City Councillor Mathieu Fleury asked students to find new ways of offering free access for sport and recreational activities in the Overbrook, Vanier, and Lowertown neighbourhoods.

Coach Chris Lalonde, President of the North Gloucester Giants Community Football Club – a club which has used and maintained the Gil O Julien Fieldhouse for 40 years – had been working with local youth to revitalize other parts of the area, including the fence around the field. They had been in contact with Youth Ottawa through our ACI program, and had seen Mathieu Fleury’s community challenge.

When two OCSB students and teammates Eber Doyle and Josue Basubi heard of this challenge from their coach, an idea came to them. That lightbulb moment would allow them to accept and successfully accomplish the challenge.

Quickly, they messaged Youth Ottawa on Instagram to bring the idea to us. After pitching it to the newly appointed interim Executive Director, Jesse Card, they got the green light to begin their plan.

That summer, Youth Ottawa employed the pair of teammates and friends, and they would spend their time planning the centre and learning several lessons in marketing and entrepreneurship.

Josue said he never saw business as the right career path for him until he started working on this project, which matured both him and Eber into their business mindsets. 

“After the summer, it kind of opened my eyes. It kind of made me realize that I don’t want to be a mechanic, or just play football, I want to be bigger than that – help communities, I want to help people,” Josue said.

Just as fast as this opportunity materialized for Josue and Eber, a friend of theirs was taken away. On July 4th, 20-year-old Loris Tyson Ndongozi, was killed the Sunday night while playing pick-up basketball with a friend in a Lowertown park the week after the boys started their new positions with Youth Ottawa. That tragedy further reinforced the purpose they saw of creating what they had started to envision as The RUN Centre (Rise Up Now) at Gil O Julien Park. 

“We lost two other people [that summer] who were also a vital part of the community and I knew all of them, but when we lost Pancake [Loris], it was kind of like losing a brother to me. So from there on it kind of made me look at life really differently and changed my perspective of things,” Eber said. “Then I wanted to make a change, we all want to make a change, where we want to feel safe. And we genuinely feel like if we had that space before, none of this would have happened.”

Councillor Rawlson King, Josue Basubi & Youth Ottawa Executive Director Jesse Card stand outside the centre (from left to right)
Councillor Rawlson King, Josue Basubi & Youth Ottawa Executive Director Jesse Card stand outside the centre (from left to right)
Loris Tyson Ndongozi

The centre will provide community members with access to programming in sports, recreation, nutrition, and entrepreneurship, while giving an old City of Ottawa facility a second life. 

In a year of merging milestones, we have taken our first steps to completely transform a community in need of it. With the Overbrook community’s centennial anniversary, Youth Ottawa’s 25th anniversary, and this centre to be unveiled during the newly-proclaimed Youth Week in Ottawa, this is surely another milestone to keep in the books. 

Before becoming a city councillor, Rawlson King was president of the Overbrook Community Association. In 2019, he decided to run for City Councillor in the hopes of providing the community with more opportunities. 

For communities such as Overbrook where the rates of poverty are much higher than in other areas of the city, opportunities for structured recreation have been minimal. This lack of structure allows more crime to happen as they face more peer pressure between after-school hours and when their parents come home from work.


Gil O Julien Fieldhouse
The Gil O Julien Fieldhouse, before construction
The new Gil o Julien Fieldhouse scoreboard, funded by councillors Rawlson King and Tim Tierney
The new Gil o Julien Fieldhouse scoreboard, funded by councillors Rawlson King and Tim Tierney

King partnered with councillor Tim Tierney to fund the installation of a new scoreboard at Gil O Julien Field, demonstrating teamwork and supporting the boys in scheduling meetings with the city and getting them other resources. 

“Overbrook is turning 100 years old and it would be nice to ensure that we have this wonderful type of investment,” King said. “I see it as a first step in terms of providing [youth] new opportunities… so that they don’t have to get wrapped up in criminal lifestyles in order to support their way of life. A lot of that just comes down to opportunities.” 

The youth who benefit from our initiatives may also end up returning to give back to the communities from which they come, King mentioned. 

“I think the key is to be able to provide people access to those networks, so that they can either enhance their education, or their labour prospects as they move forward, and then be able to reinvest in the community, and not just in a monetary way,” King said.

This is just the beginning of all the large-scale community transformation that we could accomplish together. Facilities like these exist all over the city. 

As our steps become strides, there is hope to expand projects such as these into other communities.

“My main goal for the community is just to make sure that kids [who] feel like they have nowhere to go have a place to go and be safe. So obviously, that means, you know, possibly expanding to other communities in Ottawa, in Canada maybe, places like Toronto as well, but that’s speaking ahead, but that’s my goal for it,” Eber explained. 

“I’m really excited about that prospect of the potential expansion of the programming, but also ensuring that youth have something to do that’s productive, have that structured during critical hours, where they’re learning skills, I think that that’s, we need more of that,” King said.

As youth leaders, Youth Ottawa gives youth the ingredients to success. It is up to them how they want to use them. In giving students the opportunity to learn skills for themselves, they will have the tools necessary to apply what they learned, rather than repeating whatever it is they crammed into their short-term memory. In short, we aim to form teams with those we work with.

“Josue and Eber and the RUN Centre exemplify exactly what Youth Ottawa does for the City,” said Youth Ottawa’s now-permanent Executive Director, Jesse Card. “What makes us different from other youth organizations is that we don’t tell youth what the solutions and services are for them, but rather we engineer an environment for youth to develop the services and solutions for themselves – and then they also deliver them. The organization has always been small and agile with an entrepreneurial spirit and youth can relate to that”. 

While most of the fieldhouse main floor has been fully functional for youth to engage in fitness programming since last fall, we hope to begin renovations of the fieldhouse this summer after logistics are coordinated with the City.

Construction on the RUN Centre is set to begin in May 2022, starting with a new community kitchen in partnership with the Rockcliffe Rideau Community Resource Centre. It will proceed through to the next spring, adding a deck looking out onto Gil O Julien Field, some excavation and foundation work, some recreation and fitness areas, and a full renovation of the unfinished basement into a entrepreneurship hub.

A big thanks

Youth Ottawa will continue to support the community through the RUN Centre by offering access to its programming, providing employment opportunities and involving their networks of other community partners.

We are grateful for the outstanding support from Councillor King and the City of Ottawa in the progress of this project, especially as we have applied for grants from the city to assist with costs for both renovations and operations.  Councillor King has facilitated considerations around a long term lease of the Gil O Julien Fieldhouse, and is working with us and the community to make additional investments in the park to honour Overbrook’s centenary. We are happy to have made this announcement during National Youth Week.

The Community Challenge

Take a look at the video that inspired this project!

Mathieu Fleury – City Councillor for Rideau-Vanier Ward 

Civics Issue: Recreational Opportunities for Low-income Youth and Families

Community Challenge: What can we do so that every youth in our city that wants to participate in sports can do so in their neighbourhoods?

Next steps

Are you interested in helping us take the next step to generational transformation in the communities like Overbrook? Your donations go directly to our programs, helping amplify student visions for their communities!

25 Years of Spirit: A Yearbook

25 Years of Spirit: A Yearbook

Our History

Though most of our early records were burned in a fire at the CHOJ station (now known as CTV), the stories of youth live on in personal memories of resiliency and courage. In order to recover some of our history, our communications team went on a journey of investigation: connecting with past members in any way we could. What follows is everything that has been reclaimed through our investigation and more recent documentation of the RBC Spirit of the Capital Awards.  

A Tribute to our Founder: Max Keeping

Our first “principal,” Max Keeping, was also our first cheerleader. Among many other organizations, he was dedicated to redefining what “community” meant. He was an honourary-chair at what was formerly known as Child and Youth Friendly Ottawa (now Youth Ottawa), but took a hands-on role within our organization.

Before passing away in 2015, he once said “I’ve got a lot of living to do. We like to think he has kept his promise as his spirit lives on through our organization. It was his goal to give kids and youth a voice in decisions that mattered most to them: an ideal that carries on in every corner of our organization. 

In the early days, Max Keeping was instrumental in the promotion of CAYFO. He was an on-air reporter who would end each of his broadcasts with a small positive piece about kids for numerous years. 

“Every Friday, he’d finish the newscast with ‘make a difference in the life of a child.’ And everyone’s saying that now, but people weren’t saying that way back then,” explained David Millen, our founding Executive Director.

In the early years, there were a number of young people who had great ideas. One such person was Maya Shoucair: a young high school class president who had helped organize a few of our first Spirit Awards. She then came up with an idea and decided to approach us with it.

In 2004, Maya Shoucair and her friends pitched their new fair fundraiser idea to Max Keeping. They weren’t able to accomplish the idea, but she was grateful for the opportunity to pitch the idea to the team at the CTV station nonetheless. 

Without Max, we wouldn’t be where we are today. Without him, we wouldn’t have had the privilege of hearing youth voices for a quarter of a century. 

“It was through those efforts with Max that we were able to get off to a good start,” said David. “There was a lot of trial and error, and in those early years; we struggled primarily to secure funding. With Max, we gained profile, and thus we were able to find more funding opportunities.”

Now, one of our RBC Spirit of the Capital Award categories is called the Max Keeping award. It recognizes the young changemakers that have made a big impact in our community, or in their own lives. Year after year, these stories are powerful enough to bring tears to our eyes – whether it’s saving someone’s life or overcoming personal struggles, we are always thankful to hear the stories of strength and resilience of these youth.

One such youth was Jeff Ava Gonsalez, whose family had immigrated to Canada to escape violence. Two of his brothers had been killed, and he was unknowingly put in a class with someone who had killed his second brother. Despite his turmoil and anger, he knew nothing would come out of further violence. Fast forward a couple years, and he became a police officer and visited countless schools to tell his story to younger children.

Retired Programs

Tools 4 School & Skate 4 Kids

Tools 4 Schools was a program we ran for over a decade, allowing the community to raise money and realise the importance of community support in making a difference in youth and their families. Throughout 10 years, we provided youth with over 15,000 new and gently used skates who needed them to enjoy our favourite national past-time through our Skates 4 Kids program.


Bullying is a major problem youth face in school. With USAFE, a youth-to-youth education program, we had educators go into schools to discuss these issues and create school environments a safer, more respectful place. By listening to other youth, kids were more also likely to engage with learning. 

Ottawa Youth for Change

With our Ottawa Youth for Change program, youth were encouraged to implement international projects into their own communities. We held annual conferences discussing pertinent, global issues and how to solve them locally. Most importantly of all, CAYFO started out as an organization who asked businesses how child and youth-friendly their buildings were. 

“What a radical thing to ask!” said David.

Children were invited to hospitals, schools, and hotels to evaluate the safety measures for kids. Since then, we have continued to provide educational programming. We continue to teach digital literacy, community civic engagement, and professional skills to youth all over Ottawa. Our Youth Active Media (YAM) program, Active Citizen Initiative (ACI) program, and Artistic Mentorship Program (AMP) are all those that continue to make an impact in the lives of young Ottawans. Moreover, when we were known as CAYFO, we focused on the accomplishments of those under the age of 18. Since then, we have moved on to include those in university and college as well.  

Our First Spirit Awards

For 25 years, we have not only been providing resources for Ottawa youth, but we have also been recognizing their efforts and accomplishments. Whether it was for perseverance, courage, strength through diversity, or many others, the inspirational quality of youth has always been recognized.  

In 1997, we hosted our first RBC Spirit of the Capital Award ceremony at the Westin hotel. For many youth, it was the first time they got the chance to attend a formal, sit-down gala, let alone one that recognized their accomplishments. 

Medin Admasu was one of our Master of Ceremonies that year. He described rocks with motivational messages placed at each table, powerful stories, and a wide range of youth who excelled in their own categories: from academics to athletics. 

From the beginning, we have also been allowing youth to gain skills behind-the-scenes. Youth like Medin and Maya were instrumental in understanding what was needed for these events.

“[Youth Ottawa was] not just providing for the youth, but also looking at what the youth could do” – Joe Veryard, a past Chair of the Board of Directors at Youth Ottawa.

The next year, we would host our Spirit Awards at the Congress Centre as a dinner event, with the private sector as a sponsor.

Heroes of the Round Table

CAYFO/Youth Ottawa started off by providing youth with the resources they needed to accomplish their goals. Soon enough, we would shift our priorities to also include listening to the youth our decisions affected most. We have since evolved, but this principle remains the same. In the beginning, our founders noticed that only adults were the ones making decisions for kids.

“All of these well-intentioned adults would sit around and make decisions about governance in the child welfare system and the kids were nowhere to be seen.” – David Millen

While no one wanted to listen to these voices, CAYFO worked hard to create a foundation for change. At the Royal Ottawa Hospital, a round table was formed to promote the need for action in schools and school safety. The tables represented equality, regardless of age or status, where everyone had a say in decision-making – the first time for youth.

The very first board of directors were incredibly influential, including the chief of police, local city counsellors, as well as up to four youth. Before us, this was unheard of. Those four youth went on to do extremely well in the world of politics and business.

“It was refreshing to spend a lot of time with kids who were in those days quite surprised that anybody would want to listen to them, pay attention to them, other than their school teachers and their own parents,” expressed David. Since that moment, round tables were the birthplace of our beliefs: where everyone’s voice is heard, regardless of who they were.

The Spirit Awards through the Decades

The Spirit of the Capital Awards were once a formal sit-down gala, but eventually evolved into a stand-up friendly event after listening to some of the suggestions from youth themselves. 

We take pride in having put the needs and voices of young people first throughout all these years. As Medin once said: “nothing about us without us.” To this day, we believe that youth should be able to tell us what they need from us. “Whenever you’re talking about something, those that are most impacted should be involved in whatever capacity – they need a say in it, if not, should be leading it” – Medin Admasu

As such, we have been able to adapt to suit the needs of youth throughout the decades. Starting out as an organisation that focused on making sure that public spaces were safe for children, working on children’s rights, to now focusing on amplifying youth voices and youth talent. 

The criteria for the RBC Spirit of the Capital Awards have changed numerous times throughout the years, with a recognition that some of the first categories overlapped quite a bit.

The Spirit of the Capital Awards also used to only name one recipient – but how do you choose just one? There were so many heartwarming and inspiring stories: we had to change it to two recipients. This was especially true for the courage award, now called the Max Keeping award, where the runners-up would have amazing stories, despite not being the recipients.

We also incorporated tables for families so they could celebrate their children’s accomplishments.  In a world where youth were seen as delinquents and troublesome, we proved everyone wrong with our Spirit Awards. 

“It gives people the opportunity to look at youth in a positive light and all these good news stories that don’t always make it to the headlines” – Joe Veryard 

Thank you to all those who allowed us to learn about some of our own history. 

More about our Impact: Profiles

Maya Shoucair

Maya Shoucair’s younger sisters were astounded that people actually worked at TikTok, let alone their older sister. Maya was hired to lead public policy partnerships for Canada. Now, she’s leading social impact strategy across the Americas. But before all of this exciting development, she was a youth in Ottawa. In 2004, she attended her first sit-down gala: the RBC Spirit of the Capital Awards. As a student council president, she found out about Youth Ottawa through school, and helped volunteer at the awards. She credits all of the youth programs that give young people access to resources and leadership opportunities to her success, including Youth Ottawa. 

“I grew up in Sandalwood, a highly underserved neighbourhood in Ottawa’s south east. I credit a lot of my success to having access to youth leadership programs like Hillcrest’s student council or Youth Ottawa which provided skills based training, mentorship, and networking opportunities I wouldn’t have otherwise had access to,” said Maya.

Medin Admasu

Medin Admasu was one of the MC’s at our very first RBC Spirit of the Capital Awards, and chaired the organising committee for our fourth awards. It was his first time organizing a large local award ceremony, but set him up to where he is today: having organized multiple large events for the Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa, where he is now the Chief Programs Officer. He continues to work with youth and give them new opportunities, and credits the opportunity to test out his skills at organizations like Youth Ottawa as a teenager to his success. 

“[Organizations like Youth Ottawa] gave me a chance to test out my skills, develop new skills, meet different people that I would never meet just doing regular teenage things at the time.” – Medin Admasu

A plethora of other youth who came into contact with us over the years have gone on to become extremely successful: from fashion entrepreneurs to lawyers.

The Future of Youth Ottawa "high"

Youth Ottawa has some exciting things planned for our 25th anniversary and beyond. This year, we are hoping to return to the National Arts Centre in person; with a red-carpet arrival, a photobooth, finger-friendly foods, VIP seating, and so much more. We look forward to seeing all of the young changemakers who will continue to have amazing opportunities. 

Nominations are now open for the 2022 RBC Spirit of the Capital Youth Awards and we’re looking for exceptional young people to honour! We’ll be recognizing 14 youth in 7 different categories. Youth will be awarded a $1,000 bursary, recognition through CBC Ottawa platforms and an opportunity to celebrate with us at the gala in October. If you know a young person who is helping to make your community a better place, we want to hear from you!

More information on the award categories and requirements can be found here.

Mayor for a Day Contest

Mayor for a Day Contest

Applications now accepted!

Mayor Jim Watson, the City of Ottawa and Youth Ottawa’s Ottawa Youth Engagement Committee (OYEC) are proud to host the Annual Mayor for a Day Contest!

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic impact on community programming, The Mayor for a Day contest was put on hold in 2020 and 2021. Organizers have been working hard to put on the contest in 2022 and we are excited to officially launch the contest today! 

What is the Mayor for a Day Contest?

The Mayor for a Day contest is a unique and exciting opportunity to engage local youth from around the city on municipal politics and civic issues. Ottawa high school students in grades 9 to 12 are invited to apply by outlining their vision for Ottawa over the next 50 years, for their chance to experience a day with Mayor Jim Watson!

The Mayor for a Day contest is organized by the Ottawa Youth Engagement Committee (OYEC) in partnership with the City of Ottawa and Mayor Jim Watson’s office, as a way to promote youth engagement on municipal politics and civic issues.

Submitted ideas from all participants will help inform the Ottawa Youth Engagement Committee’s Youth Action Plan (YAP), as part of OYEC’s current citywide youth consultations.

How do I apply?

Students are invited to apply by filling out the application below. The deadline to submit is April 28th, 2022 and contest winners will be contacted shortly after. The two winners will be shadowing the Mayor throughout the day on May 5th from 8am-2pm. 

Pictures from the 2019 winners & the 2019 OYEC committee

Re-Engaging Young Artists: Artistic Mentorship Program

Artistic Mentorship Program

Re-engaging young artists

When the pandemic started, many of us turned to music, picked up new artistic hobbies, and were comforted by creatives. When all seemed lost, we turned to the arts. 

Storytelling comes naturally to us: whether visually, emotionally, or verbally. By mastering the art of telling stories, we become effective communicators in every other aspect of our lives, practice our creative muscles, and improve our mental health. No matter your way of thinking, creativity can often help you think of new approaches to problem-solving. 

Even philosopher Richard Taylor based his premise of the meaning of life on exercising your own creativity to serve a greater purpose.

“What redeems humanity is not its kings, military generals and builders of personal wealth, however much these may be celebrated and envied. It is instead the painters, composers, poets, and philosophers, writers – all who, by their creative power alone, bring about things of great value, things which, but for them, would never have existed at all.”   – “The Meaning of Life” by Richard Taylor in Philosophy Now 

Without artists, we would have no stories, no myths, no religion, and perhaps no real sense of humanity. The arts are intrinsically intertwined with society, just as much mathematics and science is. It is for this reason that we are happy to announce that we are bringing back our Artistic Mentorship Program with a few minor changes to cater to our current situation in the pandemic. 

Last October, we invited talented musicians to perform at the 2021 Spirit of the Capital Awards. For the first time since the pandemic started, a new artistic vision arose. 


Angelo Leo, one of the performers, has since joined our team to bring back our AMP program.

Only starting music at the age of 17, he was thrust into the music industry in a short period of time, forced to learn rather quickly. With the help of mentors, he was expected to go on tour in March or April of 2020: plans that were squashed by the pandemic. Recognizing that many other artists’ plans were cancelled by the pandemic, the new AMP program aims to reintroduce artists with the opportunity to gain interpersonal connections, entrepreneurial skills, and develop artistic skills. 

The AMP program was once intended to provide youth with the tools and guidance to pursue their artistic interests, primarily focusing on performing arts.  Past events included art exhibits, musical performances at BluesFest, Art Battles, and even an Open Mic Night in partnership with the National Art Centre.

Now, Angelo’s goal is to include all forms of art, including music, visual arts, and much more. Angelo said that art can be found everywhere, and a certain level of creativity is needed no matter what you do. 

“You don’t have to be an artist now to be an artist later, because, at the end of the day, everyone has some form of artistic ability, regardless of whether they think they do or not,” said Angelo.

The program was put on pause during the pandemic, and we are now finding ways to navigate performances through restrictions. The new AMP program is still in its early stages, soon to kick off open-mic performances that will be recorded and promoted on our social media, as well as a community-based series called “Talk to Us.” In this series, young elementary school kids will get the opportunity to ask young artists questions about their work. Angelo also hopes to implement a second interview-based series in a podcast form, aimed more at young adults. 

Continuing with the same thread, we are now beginning to amplify some of the work future youth will accomplish. According to Angelo, each session will amplify the work of at least 20-50 young artists.

What happens when a Youth Signs Up?

Registering to sign up will lead to many opportunities, including promotion, lessons in creative entrepreneurship, and the chance to pursue a passion. 

Those who wish to participate are asked to register using the form below. From there, artists will either be able to participate in one of our monthly open-mic performances, or in the “Talk to Us” series. 

But it doesn’t stop there: when a youth signs up, they are also signing up for our continued support. Everyone who comes into contact with AMP will have further opportunities to kick start their creative ventures. 

Improving Digital Literacy for Future Success

Improving Digital Literacy for Future Success

Behind the Scenes of Building an Online Community

Among the many difficulties of the digital age, education and finding an online community are two that are perhaps the most noticeable in our classrooms and in our youth nowadays. Youth Ottawa has been making strides to ensure no one is left behind in the past.

Our Youth Active Media program provides teachers with access to digital platforms and online resources to help teach them and their students how to navigate remote learning, especially in a post-COVID-19 learning environment.

Since 2018, we have implemented 47 YAM classes, training over 700 students along the way.

In addition, we have welcomed new members to our team to ensure we are keeping up with the needs of our youth. By empowering youth to lead other young people, we are providing young people with the tools necessary to make an impact on our community, and within their own lives. In 2021, we had 16 new part-time hires, and four new volunteers.

Among these new members are YAM-graduates Mathias Ghezzi, Byron McDonald, and Damien Hébert. In 2020, the three of them went through our Storytelling Lab project with CBC. Byron then went on to win one of our 2021 Spirit Awards for Academic Perseverance. Damien went through a similar experience, graduating from our YAM program in 2020 and moving on to work for Hot Shoe Productions, our sister media production company, as a videographer. It is a great honour for us to provide youth with whom we come into contact with employment and development opportunities. 

After their first contact with Youth Ottawa, they wanted to further their involvement. Over the past few months, they have become our “TikTok Team” – producing short videos to help amplify our efforts online, whether on TikTok or on Instagram Reels. 

“The original concept when we thought of TikTok was to make skits and comedy, then it became more community content. We’re a big city – there’s news to be spread – so when it comes to TikTok possibly changing, I don’t think it’s going anywhere soon to be honest: I see TikTok as a perfect app for that.” says Matthias

Damien describes his experience with YAM as life-changing, having never even thought about going into video production before having taken the course. Now, he is buying his own equipment and gaining confidence in his independent skills.

“I wanna have an impact to the community, and this is a great job to do that…it's gonna give me the connections in music, video, which are both things I'm extremely interested in making my future career,” explains Damien.

Through the online videos, the group hopes to amplify young artists, entrepreneurs, and changemakers. Not only is their work providing a positive influence to the community, but they are also building up professional skills in marketing. Since starting their positions, they have quickly realized how much work goes into social media management, including pre-production, scheduling, and the adaptivity required under pressure to new trends. This new-found knowledge will surely open up future employment opportunities for them.

“I guess I’m still learning, I’m definitely not a marketer, I’m a young adult and don’t know what’s happening half the time but I’m always like ‘Hi I’m here – I’m ready to help” – Mathias Ghezzi

All three of them expressed a desire in finding a consistent posting schedule, as well as reaching a larger audience. As they continue on their journey, they will likely be starting off with Instagram Reels before expanding to TikTok. This way, they will be able to grow a larger community with whom they will be able to connect and relate more easily. 

“I want to work with Jesse to get more stuff going with YAM to reach more people and teach more people, that’s sort of my end-goal” – Byron McDonald

2021 Gratitude Report – Changing with the Times

2021 Gratitude Report
Changing with the Times

Throughout 2021, the dedication, passion and generosity of our community never wavered. Supporters, like you, make incredible things happen for youth in Ottawa. 

We are pleased to share our 2021 Gratitude Report where we highlight inspiring youth stories and showcase the power and potential of our youth.

Interested in learning more about our programs?

Send us an email to learn how you can bring them to your classroom? [email protected]

Deep dive into our two programs offered to teachers!

Active Citizenship Initiative

The Active Citizenship Initiative is used in Civics classes and other issue-based electives to guide students through taking action on a social or environmental civic issue of their choice – from the cost of a bus pass to climate change to anti-racism.

Learn More >>

Youth Active Media

At Youth Ottawa, we know the importance of digital literacy and its potential to improve lifelong learning. To become digitally literate, we guide students to develop technological skills, understand how to access accurate online information, and learn social responsibility while interacting on social networks.

Learn More >>

Join us for our 2021 Annual General Meeting

Join us for our 2021 Annual General Meeting

Youth Ottawa’s Annual General Meeting will held on December 15th, from 6-9 PM in the Executive Boardroom, Bayview Yards, 7 Bayview Station Rd, Ottawa, ON K1Y 2C5 
Want to hear about what we’ve been up to this year? Share some thoughts or feedback? Join us! Public and open to all.
If you would like to attend or be added to the speakers list please email [email protected] 

Amplifying Student Potential: the Hawthorne Project

Amplifying Student Potential
The Hawthorne Project

This summer, a handful of students from Hawthorne Public School were some of the first students to ever gain a high school credit before even stepping foot in their high school.

A partnership between Youth Ottawa and the OCDSB led to Grade 8 English Language Development students being set on a path to success; learning about practical skills such as opening a bank account, writing effective emails, as well as essential skills for understanding their future career paths. The program, reasonably entitled the Hawthorne Amplified program, provided these kids with the right resources to amplify their potential. Thanks to the cooperation of the students, teachers, and sponsors, they have been provided advantages that they may not have otherwise been able to access. The project started as an extension of Youth Ottawa’s Youth Active Media program , after students showed eagerness to continue their participation throughout the summer. 

Karen Andrews, a teacher at Hawthorne for over 18 years, was the teacher who oversaw the project alongside Youth Ottawa. When she first participated in an OCDSB XL workshop, she wanted to find a way to incorporate experiential learning in her own classroom. In the midst of negative emotions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Youth Ottawa and the experiential learning board helped facilitate this program to provide students a new and fun experience. During the year, the students developed a strong bond to each other and the teachers as they created their science fiction movie. Eventually, the students were able to build their confidence to ask for a grant from OCDSB XL. They were granted $5,000 in order to buy filming equipment, which still remains at Hawthorne. The hopes are for this filming equipment to be used as a resource for future students in their endeavours.

By extending the YAM project over the summer, it allowed the close-knit group of students to stay together while gaining a high school credit and real-world work experience to add to their CV.

Unaffected: The Video Journey

Take a look at the student’s video journey as they created their short film titled Unaffected during the Youth Active Media program.

A Great Mentor

Enter: Mouhamad Al Aarab – an aerospace engineering student at Carleton University. Mouhamad was hired by Youth Ottawa to facilitate the program as an extension of Youth Ottawa’s mission to provide economic opportunities for youth, allowing him to earn income to pay for his own tuition.

Mouhamad immigrated to Canada in 2016, after 4 years without a formal education. His second language being English, he was the perfect candidate to inspire these youth to achieve their aspirations. Nurhan, one of the students, agreed that having someone from a similar background helped them have someone to look up to. From Mouhamad’s experiences, he credited the homework club at his high school for getting him into university – something which Youth Ottawa tried to emulate through this program. 

The Hawthorne Amplified Project empowered Mouhamad to be a role model for students who may be inspired to continue in his footsteps and become mentors for future generations. Consequently, not only were other students’ potentials amplified, but the unemployment gap amongst youth was also lessened in numerous ways.

The summer lessons taught financial and digital literacy, as well as lessons in resilience and leadership, but also included games and interactive activities. Mouhammad and the teachers structured their lessons around the interests of the students, weaving in curriculum expectations wherever they could. Drawing on his own experiences, Mouhamad implemented techniques that had helped him in the past, such as starting classes by encouraging the students to voice their concerns – which was often about school or the pandemic. At first, he found it difficult to get students involved through a screen. These challenges were overcome with incentives such as games where participation was mandatory, as well as building trust with the more shy students. 

The balance between fun and education kept students engaged in the education process. For students, the final project from the previous YAM sessions – a TV show – was one of the most memorable aspects of the program, despite not being able to finish it. Mouhamad also introduced the students to “words of the day”: words that he wished to have known when he was learning English in high schools like “requirements” and “experience” – knowing that these kids would often need to help their parents understand official documents sent in English.  

“It’s a really good example of what we need to be doing more of [...] this is what we need more in education in general: kids super psyched about things” - Kristin Kopra, Hawthorne Public School Principal

The Hawthorne students also expressed disappointment in not being able to finish their movie project, and are eager to continue this sort of initiative.

“I hope one day in the future we could do it again, I still don’t know how, but hopefully one day.” - Nurhan, OCDSB Student

Their enthusiasm raises the question of whether the program could be implemented throughout the city at a larger scale to amplify the potential of even more students.

Both Karen and Kristin agreed that this program could be implemented in other schools, and would have a different – albeit still important –  effect on the students who participate. She also mentioned that one of the main reasons why this program was so successful was the teacher’s involvement and encouragement. Having a strong bond between teachers and students had been a meaningful point of the program: something that Mouhamad provided. With the proper funding, it would be possible to increase communication between students, staff, and families.

Mouhamad also added that students would benefit more if they continued the program, as they only met for two hours a week. According to him, the homework clubs that currently exist for his little brother don’t have as much of an effect as the one he attended in high school. By establishing similar programs in other schools and districts, we could amplify more student potential – but we need your help.

How you can help

How many projects can truly get a group of students excited to learn? In the end, the goal to make an impact for at least one student and support them in achieving their big dreams was achieved. But in order to amplify more student potential, we must first amplify the project as a whole. With your donations and support in fundraising efforts, you would be able to help us make a difference in the lives of more students across Ottawa by keeping projects like these going. Will you help?