From 2013 to 2016, HVRA awarded prizes to students in local schools for essays on the topic “How I’ve Made My Community Better.” Winners were chosen by a panel of HVRA members looking for personal expression of the student’s ideas and experience. Students found impressive and touching ways to show their sense of community engagement. The descriptions below show an impressive range of contributions and of nascent civic awareness. All photos by Richard Longley.
Maya Retzleff is in Grade 4 at Lord Lansdowne Public School, but she has already built up a wealth of experience doing good works. She helped her mother with a bake sale for the school, ran her own lemonade stand to raise money for Sick Children’s Hospital and the Salvation Army, and sold candles at a benefit concert for the Scott Mission. Last winter she voluntarily shoveled the sidewalk for her elderly neighbour and her babysitter, and sent the money they gave her to charity. She has also taken on tasks in a neighbourhood cleanup event. With classmates, she went to visit the Scott Mission: it was a cool experience, she wrote, but “kind of sad.” We’re lucky to have Maya in our neighbourhood!
Liya Tadesse is in Grade 12 at Central Technical School. Her essay outlined a range of volunteer work. At Scadding Court Community Centre, she has helped with children’s programs, the Newcomers’ Orientation Week, and the Youth Advisory Group. She notes that when she starts a volunteer job, she tries to ensure that everyone knows each other. Then she sees people who were shy about talking to each other become good friends: “It makes me happy to see my community get along with each other.” Liya is heading to nursing school next year. She will bring awareness and empathy to her profession.
Both essays were published in the June 2016 Annex Gleaner.
Callie Deacon, in Grade 7 at King Edward Public School, wrote about contributing to her various communities—her neighbourhood, her school, and her hockey community. The audience smiled at her account of committing “random acts of kindness” such as delivering homemade Valentines to every house on her block. She is also a serious fund-raiser to support kids’ hockey at Bill Bolton Arena. Most recently, she participated in the Sue Deacon Cup, a weekend of hockey and fund-raising for cancer research. That award is especially meaningful to her because it is named after her aunt, who “lived and breathed hockey,” and who died of cancer in 2013. Callie read her essay at the 2015 Spring Meeting with admirable clarity and poise.
Caleb Woolcott, in Grade 8 at Lord Lansdowne Public School, has already made a difference to his community. During the OMB hearings on the proposed new development at 484 Spadina, he made a speech pointing out the bad effects of a tall building overshadowing the school and its playground, and also bringing additional vehicle and foot traffic to the vicinity. His essay summarized the speech, with comments from his perspective as a young teenager. He noted, for instance, that he and his friends would be in danger from the additional traffic when they walked up the street to school each morning, because they weren’t always fully awake at that hour. Caleb ended his presentation by mentioning that the building height and therefore its shadow effects had been reduced from 22 to 15 storeys because of the community’s strong stand at the OMB.
Isahaq Ibrahim, in Grade 7 Extended French at Lord Lansdowne Public School, was the winner of HVRA’s first Student Essay Award. His excellent essay, on the assigned topic “What I Have Done to Improve My Community,” was the unanimous choice of the HVRA judges. They were impressed in general by the high quality of all the essays submitted, but felt that the winning essayist best expressed a deep commitment—in his own voice—to the betterment of his community. Specifically, Isahaq “learned to be kind and treat others with respect” from his severely disabled sister. “I will be kind no matter what because I think if my sister can be happy and kind to others, I can too.”