The Newest Generation of Changemakers

Introducing the 25th Annual RBC Spirit of the Capital Award Recipients

It’s that time of year again! We are pleased to announce the recipients of the 25th annual RBC Spirit of the Capital Youth Awards. 

The Spirit Awards is a celebration of our city’s 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, through seven categories. These youth are turning awareness into action and inspiring others to become agents of change. Learn more about the history of the Spirit Awards here!

On October 26 2022, we will be gathering for an evening of celebration at the Shenkman Arts Centre in Orleans.

The Awards Gala is a youth-friendly event held in the heart of Ottawa. Last year, the event was live streamed for the public, but this year’s event will be open to anyone who wants to join us celebrate these amazing youth! 

We are so excited for you to meet these incredible changemakers!

Academic Perseverance

Zeynep Cildir (she/her)

Zeynep is a very hard-working, reliable, and genuine leader who values teamwork. Due to many complications along the way, she was forced to move a lot. She started grade 9 in New Jersey, and halfway through her studies, moved to Texas and then again to Calgary. She had to learn English as she was moving from place to place. Even though this was difficult, Zeynep is thankful for her experiences because it has taught her to adapt to any situation, helped her connect with other cultures, and forced her to get used to meeting new people. She is very proud of her achievements, having received a Youth Award from Shepherds, the Merit Scholarship, Dean’s honour list and Undergraduate Research Scholarship. She is also the first in her family to study science at university. With her optimistic personality and improvement, she is a role model for many students and inspires them to do the same when faced with an obstacle. She also tutors at Wizedemy and Superprof company and is currently a 5-star tutor and volunteers within Let’s Talk Science to inspire youth to pursue sciences. She also spends most of her time working on her organizations, Refugee Support Association and Passionate Minds to help people through their journeys.  

Nasra Aden (she/her) 

Nasra is organized, efficient, and incredibly strong academically. Nasra is resilient and excels when put under pressure, whether it be socially, financially or academically, she always makes the right decision despite being provided difficult circumstances. Nasra’s Community Engagement,  Social Justice, Philanthropy work and dedication to the mental wellbeing of others are all a testament to her leadership skills and selflessness.  

Nasra’s family of seven immigrated to Canada and has experienced financial hardships. Nasra began her first job at age 15, but all of her earnings went toward supporting her family both here in Canada and back home. This felt like a tremendous burden as Nasra wanted to save money for postsecondary education. Because of this disadvantage, she learned to take everything seriously and to put all of her efforts into her education in order to find tuition assistance, all while caring for her younger siblings and working almost every day of the week. She has recently been accepted to Ryerson University and is also awaiting acceptance to Carleton University. 

Nasra is a driving force behind Woodroffe High School’s “Black Voices group,” a student-led operation designed to remove barriers to success for marginalized youth in the school and community. Through her work with the “Black Voices Group,” not only has Nasra has helped hundreds of students at WHS achieve academically but also combat food insecurity. By simply being her authentic self, Nasra has inspired others to succeed. 

In the future I hope to leverage my University education to uplift my family and to continue contributing to my community

Arts and Culture

Jaden Croucher (she/they)

Jaden Croucher brings innovative ideas to her peers, participates in several productions all at once, and faces new challenges with confidence. During her time as the first high-schooler to ever participate in the Youth Infringement Festival play, Jaden showed tremendous growth in her art and her self-confidence.

She is most proud of surviving with borderline personality disorder, and credits theatre and her supportive mother for keeping her moving forward. Jaden hopes to eliminate all bounds or prejudice in the artistic industry, using her illness as a motivating factor in her acting. Despite her struggles, she is highly committed to coming up with new ideas and participated in Youth Infringement Festival’s dance and theatre piece called “Nuit.” She also was awarded a silver medal in the Canadian Improv Games.

She hopes to one day study theatre at Toronto Metropolitan University and become an actress or drama teacher. 

My goal in life is to be a voice for those who can’t speak, whether that be for animals, people with mental health issues or queer people like myself. I know I can make a change in this world through art. I know I can be who I needed when I was younger. I hope that one day everyone will get to see the beauty of art. Art should be something that knows no bounds, something without prejudice or borders of any sort.

Nick Gray (he/him)

A two-time Algonquin College graduate, Cappie Award winner Nick Gray has certificates in both performing arts and scriptwriting and is currently an undergraduate student of the University of Ottawa’s Interdisciplinary Arts program. He is a playwright and performer who constantly “breaks the rules” of what can be accomplished on stage, captivating audiences by subverting theatrical conventions with an auteur flare. He consistently showcases a diverse range of artistic collaborators and stories, striving to normalize diversity at all levels in the theater space. Visible, sexual, gender, and neurodiverse minorities of all shapes and sizes occupy the worlds of his plays, from page to stage. His most recent production “GOREgeous” was featured at the 2021 Fresh Meat Festival and showcased minority performers in roles we seldom see them play: flawed heroes, tragic antagonists, and characters altogether somewhere in between. 

Nick works with actors to determine what sorts of roles they haven’t played and what they’d like to play, giving them the opportunity to broaden their horizons and securing their enthusiastic dedication to being brave on stage. Nick is never afraid to tackle taboos and tends to gravitate toward dissecting them, interrogating what they have to say about us as a society.

He is a fervent promoter and supporter of the local arts community at large— not just when he is creating, but also when others are too. He is currently involved with a short film production and frequently takes to social media to spotlight his peers’ work and encourage people to see it by sharing promotional material and writing reviews.

As a Black actor, my prerogative with dipping my toes into the Ottawa theatre community has been to expand people’s ideas of the kinds of stories minority talent can be involved with telling.

Entrepreneurship and Innovation

Drayton Mulindabigwi Jabo  (he/him)

Drayton is a determined, consistent individual with a cheery spirit who dedicates his life projects to focusing on taking care of his community. He is a firm believer in the saying “the Youth is the future” and from this saying, was inspired to start a youth-led creative hub called “20today20tomorrow.”

At 21 years old today, he built a social enterprise from the ground up in one year and is leading multiple endeavours at once all around the same mission to prove youth can solve the problems they are facing in society. Drayton is backed by a wonderful team of creative and motivated youth ready to change the world for the better and sees a bright future ahead for his company. He believes that by using the power of creative ideas, positivity, and the right structure to funnel these ideas through, 20today20tomorrow will become the biggest youth-led creative hub in the world. Currently, his company is running two primary initiatives, with more to come. His “HealMind” initiative helps youth reach accessible mental health resources, is run in two different provinces in Canada, and has made headlines in news outlets such as Radio Canada, CTV, RogersTV, and ShifterMagazine. 

His “Inspire The Next live show” is an event designed to give youth artists, youth business owners, and youth community builders a platform to tell their stories. Drayton and his team believe this is about to become one of the most creative and hottest youth gathering events in summer 2022. With his hard work, Drayton can complete anything he puts his mind to, and doesn’t see anything as a failure but as a lesson.

Ava James-Sidoli (she/her) 

Ava dedicates countless hours of her free time finding unique ways to help her community. 

At only 5 years old, she started fundraising with family and friends going door to door annually collecting donations for the Ottawa Food Bank. Seeing the impact that the food banks make sparked her passion to help others, and holds a special place in her heart today. 

Ava uses her talents to bring awareness to a variety of causes. In 2020, she won the Myers Amazing Kids Award valued at $1,000. She used this money to create her OnlyTakesOne brand which included a clothing line and sold T-Shirts, sweaters, and hats, and uses the profits to donate to the Cancer society.

In 2021, Ava also started a Back to School Campaign where she raised money and back-to-school items for students. She was able to fill 200 backpacks and purchase new laptops for students in need at CHEO and the Boys and Girls Club. In 2021, the Ottawa Food Bank asked Ava to be their Youth Holiday Ambassador to help raise funds for the food bank for Christmas. Ava created a team of 20 kids who helped her raise funds and awareness for the campaign. Together they managed to raise over $25,000 which helped fill over 100 fridges for members of our community for the holidays. In total, Ava has raised over $50,000 for the Ottawa Food Bank, $2,500 for the Kanata Food Cupboard, $7,000 for Ovarian Cancer, $3,500 for the Canadian Cancer Society, $10,000 for Cheo and the Boys and Girls Club for back to school and $500 for Homeless Youth.

Her biggest challenge along the way was learning the process of fundraising, and how to bring awareness to her causes. She has pushed herself out of her comfort zone to speak on both social media and in interviews. She’s since learned that social media made the biggest impact on her causes. Through her many accomplishments, Ava has won the following awards: Myers Amazing Kids in 2020, AFP Youth Philanthropist 2021, Ottawa Food Bank 2021 Holiday Youth Ambassador and 2022 Faces Magazine New Initiative Award.

She is the perfect role model for young women!

Max Keeping for Personal Courage

Mang Vum (He/him)

Mang grew up in a subsidized BIPOC-dominated neighbourhood, and creating a network of support for the underprivileged has become his main concern. He is soft-spoken, humble, hard-working, and determined. He exemplifies what it means to care for others and still care for himself. He works for Vibe.CD, a local business built upon supporting Black entrepreneurship. By attending meetings, partaking in photoshoots and setting up brand events he was able to raise over $15 000 for local BIPOC businesses. Throughout his life, Mang has faced issues such as poverty, racism, mental health, substance abuse, violence and gang activity. At a young age, he witnessed a shooting on his front lawn in a drive-by. Upon rushing down in an attempt to aid the victim, he realized it was a mutual friend. His single biggest challenge since then has been to suppress what he witnessed in an effort to keep a sense of normalcy at school. 

Mang’s goal is to attend undergraduate studies in architecture at Carleton University He plans to focus on spaces occupied by BIPOC to better integrate and accommodate them. As coloured people disproportionately reside in low-income housing he eventually wants to redesign this housing in a way that better serves the tenants. He also plans to reimagine prisons in a less brutal manner. By integrating various design features he believes we can subconsciously influence rehabilitation in prisoners.

Positive changes to this often ignored sector of architecture can help shape culture in these communities and aid the youth who grew up in the same conditions as me.

Zainab Al-Maliki (she/her) 

Zainab is a dedicated student who is not afraid of hard work and overcoming setbacks. Despite the many challenges that she has faced, her outlook on life remains optimistic and compassionate. She has a kindness and faith that is calming to others and she exemplifies dignity, humility and resilience. Zainab is destined to make a difference in the lives of others because of her capacity to care about others while remaining steadfast and strong when dealing with adversity. 

Zainab arrived in Canada 3 years ago with her younger brothers. Her mother was unable to be with them due to her declining health and remained in Kuwait. She began her studies in ESLAO – beginner English as a Second Language and adjusted to a new language and culture without the guidance and support of her mom. At 16, Zainab reached out for help due to an escalating abusive situation in her home.  Although she was connected with social work for support, there were few options for a young woman without resources. She also worried about her younger brothers who were also victims of the conflict in the home and she would not leave without them. She remained in this unsafe environment until she turned 18 and could leave with her brothers. Zainab’s courage has allowed them to access emergency housing and in addition to attending school full time, she is now fully responsible for her 2 brothers.  Her unwavering commitment and optimism has only enhanced the love and respect that they feel for her. 

Service and Caring

Dalia Ibrahim (she/her)

Dalia is a dedicated and compassionate individual. She led a Relay for Life and coordinated an event that raised $103,000 for cancer research. Dalia also supports causes by providing financial aid through advocacy. She was the outreach coordinator for the Translational and Molecular Medicine student association. Dalia planned many events like a sports tournament fundraiser in support of True North Aid, an initiative where they distributed over 600-holiday cards to residents in retirement homes to spread holiday cheer and a Movember virtual walk. 

Dalia developed a passion for science and healthcare with a focus on cancer research. She has been working with a senior scientist at The Ottawa Hospital Cancer Centre to test the effectiveness of a particular drug for ovarian cancer. Dalia was able to present her research at the Inspiring Diversity in STEM conference, the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute Research Day, and the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Medicine Research Day.  Dalia is working to become a doctor with the goal of improving healthcare for minority populations.

Rhea Grace (she/her)

Rhea volunteers with Legacy Hope Foundation,  an Indigenous-led organization that seeks to advance Indigenous Reconciliation through education. She assisted the exhibitions department by doing research and writing tasks. Rhea wrote and submitted a project proposal to Canadian Heritage on behalf of a new exhibition on the National Day for Truth and reconciliation. She conducted hours of research on the origins of the official, National Day for Truth and Reconciliation (beginning with Parliamentary deliberations), Orange Shirt Day, and the recent uncovering of unmarked graves at residential school sites. She was challenged with imposter syndrome as a young professional and was able to overcome her self-doubt. 

Rhea’s experience at LHF reinforced the importance of including Reconciliation in these types of policy discussions and beyond. Rhea intends to pursue a career in policy analysis, specifically in socio-economic policy development in Canada. She wants to focus on issues in gender equality, economic equity, and environmental health.

Strength Through Diversity

Hafsa Hussein (she/her)

Hafsa Hussein is a dedicated volunteer who can build immediate rapport and engage her peers. Her goal is to serve as a compassionate leader while connecting people around her in fun and meaningful activities. Her greatest strength is her ability to interact and empathize with marginalized communities while remaining focused on the task at hand. Hafsa can serve as a mentor; she demonstrates confidence in her ability to make decisions regarding customization of programs and ensures that such programs are accessible where and when needed. 

The Covid-19 pandemic emerged as an existential threat to many community members in Ottawa. The disease disproportionately affected people of colour and Indigenous communities. As a United Nations Generation SDG Ambassador for Ottawa and Gatineau, Hafsa worked towards mitigating the effects of Covid-19 and preventing its re-occurrence. She set as part of her goals the facilitation of opportunities and avenues for Black community members to live through the pandemics as safely as possible. She made this possible through a direct outreach approach, knocking on doors to encourage senior citizens to get tested and making presentations in workshops run by nurses to communicate with seniors online. She additionally managed the delivery of essential information virtually to people with pre-existing conditions such as Diabetes Mellitus while effectively communicating with residents in specific hotspot areas. As a result of her work as SDG Ambassador in the community during the pandemics, Hafsa was selected as a lead speaker for the Annual United Nations Association in Canada (UNAC) symposium on April 2nd, 2022. 

Hafsa’s biggest challenge has been to overcome discrimination and bullying. She began to wear a hijab in secondary school at which time she noticed her close friends becoming cold and distant towards her, even stopping to invite her to their activities and rarely speaking to her. This taught her to cultivate the company of people who would inspire and encourage her in positive ways. To combat ignorance and prejudice, Hafsa co-founded the Black Excellence Club at Merivale High School. The club works to promote the strength that lies in diversity and showcase achievements of the Black community while providing a safe space for cordial and uplifting interactions, to freely express thoughts and be heard with compassion.

Rehani Akenga (he/him)

Rehani is a remarkable young man who has overcome adversity and used his passion for life to excel in all areas. Rehani left Congo for a refugee camp in Malawi in 2013 and arrived in Canada in 2021. Rehani is open and generous with others in discussing his culture and experiences. He is fluent in five languages and is working on finding summer employment to help support his family, all while excelling in the classroom. He inspires teachers and classmates with his curiosity and motivation. He seeks feedback regularly, and happily works with others who need help. 

Growing up in Africa, giving back to his community was important to him, and so he volunteered on different projects in the Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Malawi. These activities included: orphans and street children support, prisoners assistance, community sanitation, church services and Covid-19 preventive awareness campaigns. After arriving in Saint-Jérôme (Québec), Rehani moved to Ottawa. While in Ottawa, his education was not easy due to food shortages and the high cost of living. He was not able to focus on education because finding a job for his family was of utmost importance. Even during all of these challenges, Rehani still finds time to give back to the community. He collected food and fundraised money to help prisoners in Maula Prison and participated in litter pick-ups within the community to minimize the spread of disease due to improper hygiene. In addition, he volunteers with the Knights of Columbus in kids coat fundraising and many more activities at St. Augustine’s Parish, Ottawa.

Rehani has worked extremely hard to ensure that he excels in school and develops skills for future employment. Rehani has overcome language barriers extremely effectively. He consistently delivers presentations and written work that is professional and concise. He is a leader in the class, volunteering ideas and engaging with others. The personal challenges he has faced, in Congo, Malawi, and Canada, are turned into fuel for Rehani. He channels his energy to consistently perform at his highest level. Rehani has incredible hope for the future. He is looking toward post-secondary education as a launching pad to fulfilling employment. He looks forward to helping support his family and to be able to work towards financial stability. He is constantly mindful of the needs of his family, both in Canada and in Africa.

Take a Stand

Youth4Youth Canada (group)

Taliah Lyons (she/her), Zara Lyons (she/her), Ayla Martin (she/her)

Founded and overseen by female Indigenous youth, Youth4Youth is the umbrella grassroots organization under which youth create and manage projects to improve the lives of youth in Canada through arts, culture and health education.  Group members are Taliah Lyons (Carleton University), Zara Lyons (Lycee Claudel), Ayla Martin (Carine Wilson Secondary School), and Sarina Lyons (Lycee Claudel).

Y4Y Canada felt inspired to act when they learned that Ottawa was experiencing an opioid crisis which was increasingly affecting youth. After receiving microgrants, they began their Talk Overdose project: a project which aims to reduce stigma toward people who use opioids. Through school presentations and workshops, they’ve reached approximately 500 youth in communities across Canada in their first year, despite only being able to work on the Talk Overdose project during school breaks. 

Due to the fact that Indigenous people have disproportionately been impacted by the opioid crisis, Y4Y Canada researched other ways to help and came to recognize the role of culture in healing intergenerational trauma. With the support of their Wasa Nabin Coordinator, Bethany Stewart at the Odawa Native Friendship Center (ONFC), they designed the Kisac project to promote connection to culture. Kisac has mobilized Elders, Knowledge Keepers, Facilitators, parents, and youth to come together to deliver their culturally relevant workshops. ONFC is known for its Wasa-Nabin cultural programming. The program is well-developed and it is a safe space where urban Indigenous youth aged 13-18 can be themselves. Youth participate in cultural activities, are taught to make healthy life choices, and have access to Elders for guidance.

For the upcoming 2022-23 school year, Youth4Youth is actively working to put their Outreach Brochure in the hands of school social workers and counselors to reach even more students. They are tremendously grateful for the help and guidance of community mentors such as their Wasa Nabin Coordinator Bethany Stewart, their former Wasa Nabin Coordinator Alexia Miron, and chocolatier Pierrette Vezina. The Outreach Brochure clearly demonstrates how their Talk Overdose project ties into Ontario provincial education curriculum, as well as to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action #19. One of their future goals is to secure grants which will allow them to bring their project to remote Indigenous communities, especially those  with internet issues.

Putting opioid users in recovery in front of youth audiences for presentations and Q&A sessions has been our biggest struggle…. While not as dynamic or interactive as a live session, [videos] still allow youth to hear an honest and heartfelt story about another person’s journey through opioid addiction. We’re also striving to make them representative of the population, to properly show the extent of the problem, rather than enforce existing stereotypes.

Maleeka Ellaithy (she/her)

Maleeka is an extremely driven individual who is staunchly committed to her core values and beliefs, constantly inspiring those around her to do their part in changing the world. Growing up in a country where she saw huge socioeconomic disparities, Maleeka has dedicated herself to leveling the playing field for all minorities.

Over the last 18 years, she has founded two non-profit organizations, raised more than $5,000 for various causes, and inspired over 5.5 thousand people through her activities. Her YouthBeHeard initiative provides resources and mentoring for students who want to make a difference but don’t know how and where to start, a struggle she experienced herself years ago. Maleeka is also the co-founder and previous co-president of the Ottawa Women in STEM chapter, which bridges the female representation gap in STEM by organizing workshops and facilitating mentorship. She previously led 1,500+ members globally as the Regional Outreach Director for Canada. In addition to WiSTEM and YouthBeHeard, Maleeka is also an active community volunteer, first aid provider, mentor, and a volunteer tutor for charity.

Her award-winning prose and poetry has been published in over a dozen anthologies: an art form she uses to raise awareness about community issues and promote compassion.

From visiting orphanages to discussing global issues, my parents instilled in me empathy, love, and compassion. I wanted to change people's lives for the better and create a more empathetic world. Whether that was through feeding the poor or fundraising for medical care, I wanted to make someone's life a little easier.

What's next?

This year, the RBC Spirit of the Capital Awards will take place on October 26 at the Shenkman Arts Centre and will be open to the public to attend.

We would also like to give a big thank you to our media sponsors CBC Ottawa, event hosts the Shenkman Arts Centre and our sponsors this year: