Reflections on a whirlwind trip to #Sandbox2017

By Maree Rodriguez, Young Canadians Roundtable on Health

From April 4th-6th, I had the pleasure of attending the Young Canadians Roundtable on Health (YCRH) Annual General Meeting as well as the 2017 Sandbox Summit. Over two days and two nights, I spent the time thinking, exploring and networking with youth from coast-to-coast across Canada. It is an experience I am proud to be part of and hope to have many more in the future.

To understand my perspective, I am from Winnipeg, Manitoba. While Winnipeg is still a large city, I came into Toronto with a fresh perspective and sense of wonder. It was my first time in Toronto and those two things combined with the fact it was my first time travelling (alone I might add) since I was twelve years old made me incredibly excited to visit this new place. If there are three words that I would use to describe Toronto, it’s tall (buildings), long (roads) and Starbucks (everywhere!).

April 4th was the YCRH’s AGM, a full-day event where we discussed many things including YCRH’s future and current and upcoming projects. A highlight of the day was being able to meet and speak with Irwin Elman, Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth in Ontario. He talked about the importance of youth and letting youth voices be heard. Afterwards, we had our project breakouts, discussing issues around the opioid crisis, youth homelessness and poverty.

I explored downtown Toronto with two friends after the AGM. Everyone and everything moves incredibly fast. Maybe it’s the Starbucks on every corner, or the endless types of transportation from cars to buses to subways. Whether it’s looking at the water by the harbour, or looking up in the middle of Yonge and Dundas, for a first-timer like me, there’s a lot to see. If you ever go to Toronto, make sure to bring a sweater, because you will be out all day and won’t want to miss a thing.

The next day was the 2017 Sandbox Summit. This day was filled with speakers, discussion, ideas and networking. Representatives from various child and youth health organizations were there to share ideas about how we can help children and youth to be healthier, safer and more involved in their communities across Canada. It was great to meet with so many people and listen to each other’s ideas, opinions and perspectives.

My only complaint is that my time there seemed to end the moment it began. I’ve made new connections and most importantly, some amazing friends. It was great to finally see everyone in person since we are usually connected by a teleconference line and social media. 

I was incredibly exhausted by the time I got back home. The AGM and Summit along with the exploring were physically and mentally tiring. However, I wouldn’t take any of it back. I hit the ground running and made the most of my stay. Here’s to new friendships and a healthier Canada for all children and youth. Stay tuned to see what the YCRH comes up with next!

About the Author

Maree Rodriguez is a speaker, writer, spoken word poet, and mental health and bullying awareness advocate. She has facilitated health-related workshops to thousands of youth across Winnipeg and currently facilitates No Means No workshops. These workshops cover topics such as power, rights and consent. She enjoys the outdoors, baking, singing in the shower and languages. Currently, Maree is studying psychology at the University of Winnipeg.

Mental Health and the Importance of Storytelling

By April Haggart, Young Canadians Roundtable on Health

Mental health is not an easy topic to open up about.  It is not easy for a person who is battling it, or for their families to talk about it. What people going through their own battles do not know is the power behind their own stories.  Each story is a journey that not only empowers others to open up, but it can also educate people on mental health and illness.

I learned this through my own battle with depression. I found that my own story, my own journey, is inspirational to others. It educates my family and friends about mental health. However, while I discovered that there are resources for families of teens and children who have a mental illness, there is a lack of resources for families with children 21 years and older. 

After experiencing depression between 2012 and 2014 and realizing the lack of resources and education for adults to learn what their loved one is going through, an idea was sparked in me. Two years later, I started the My Story Movement on Facebook. 

My Story is a place for individuals who are fighting, have fought or lost someone to mental illness to come share their stories. Their stories shed light into their own struggles. We focus on hope and the positives in people's stories, and how they have been able to get better and improve themselves. 

We are never alone. We are all in this together.  Our stories are our own to tell. We all have strength inside ourselves to open up. 

If you are not ready to share your story publicly, start with your family and friends. It actually gives them insight into what your triggers are, what works and what does not work for you. It will take time for them to learn. They will have questions. They will ask how they can help you. It is okay to tell them if all you need is to have someone listen.  It will be a learning curve not only for them, but also for you. 

This is your life, your journey, your story. It will have an impact and motivate others to open up.

April Haggart photo.jpg

About the Author

April Haggart is the founder of the My Story Movement on Facebook. She is combining her recreation background and passion for mental health awareness in hopes of inspiring youth about the impact their own stories can have on others. 


Youth and Innovation Forum: Generation Now, Building the Future of Tomorrow

By Stephanie Bertolo, Vice Chair, Young Canadians Roundtable on Health

On November 21st and 22nd, I attended the 2016 Youth and Innovation Forum hosted by Pollution Probe and Student Energy. This first-time conference attracted 60 youth from across Canada. By bringing together the voices of those with vastly different perspectives, the most innovative ideas surrounding sustainability and environment were able to emerge.

We first met at the Hard Rock Café on the evening of the 21st. Over hors d’oeuvres and social bingo, it soon became apparent what an incredibly talented and passionate group of people had come together. From undergraduates to PhD students to those employed in the environmental sector, everyone was a clear leader in their fields. 

The next morning, we met again at the Ontario Trade and Investment Centre. We started off the day with a motivating speech from The Honourable Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario. She stated that the province is not bold or ambitious enough; we must grow to be so by foremost learning from the rest of the world’s environmental innovations, which will help to inspire our own. Her faith in youth made it clear that Ontario has great possibilities to move forward and become a leader in sustainability.

This then led us into the main portion of the day: The Innovation Jam. Based upon participants’ suggestions, several environment and sustainability challenges were presented. Youth broke out into smaller groups to focus on one of these issues. For two hours, we tirelessly brainstormed and ideated to develop an action plan that could be part of a larger solution.

At my table we discussed effective community collaboration. Change must be made to achieve a sustainable future. However, it is important that the change is agreed upon by community members and all those affected. Through discussion, we developed the idea of creating a generalizable conference structure that could successfully be applied in different settings to mediate community engagement. This conference would help communities discuss environmental problems and create solutions that would be best for individuals. There could be speakers, breakout sessions, and opportunities to get involved in other local projects. We, or those who take on our project idea, would provide community champions with the resources to set up these conferences in their neighbourhoods. This would include facilitation training and information about grant opportunities that could cover the financial costs of the conferences. In this way, the community would have ownership over the project, which is crucial for empowerment and sustainability.

Other tables also presented impressively innovative ideas surrounding sustainable living topics in Northern Canada, facilitating the transition towards a greener economy, and learning from the wisdom of Indigenous communities. With official note-takers at each table, all of the discussion was recorded, which will allow for the ideas to live on long after the Forum was over.

This being the first time the Forum was held, it was a fantastic event, inciting great ideas and meaningful connections between participants. I look forward to seeing how Pollution Probe and Student Energy apply what was discussed during the day to inform future projects. In addition, the event still has incredible potential and room for growth in future years. What is most important is that the organizers have taken a meaningful step to include the youth voice in building a sustainable future.  




Stephanie Bertolo is from Hamilton, Ontario and is currently studying Arts and Science at McMaster University.  Stephanie's passion for health and community drives her work with the YCRH, the Hamilton Community Foundation and several groups on McMaster’s campus.

Stories, presented by TELUS: Meet Alicia

TELUS has recently launched Stories, presented by TELUS, a new platform that showcases the personal narratives of ordinary Canadians on the things we all care about most: staying well, building healthy and diverse communities, living our connected lives, caring for our planet and growing our businesses.

The first episode features the YCRH's Alicia Raimundo using technology to help young people manage mental health.  Please watch below: 

For more on Stories, please click here

Refugees, community engagement, and Sarvodaya

By Stephanie Bertolo, Vice Chair, Young Canadians Roundtable on Health

On October 1st, Hamilton, Ontario celebrated the 24th Annual Gandhi Peace Festival. I was pleased to coordinate the event along with a committee of McMaster professors and community members. The theme this year was “Refugees and Sarvodaya.” Sarvodaya is Gandhi’s principle of “universal uplift” or “the progress of all.”

In a country built on immigration that prides itself in its mosaic of cultures, the event was a celebration of the newcomers to the country. From raising money to privately sponsor a family to coordinating services to aid newcomers, the citizens of the Hamilton community have come together to support its newest members. With refugees coming from a place of destruction, Hamiltonians want to help them build a better life here in Canada.

However, the day was also a call for the government to do better. Keynote speaker, Nora Melara-Lopez, social worker and coordinator of the emergency support committee for refugees at the North Hamilton Community Health Centre, called upon the federal government to do more. The lack of mental health supports, delays in family reunification, and racism from some Canadians are all negatively impacting refugees’ health. It is not enough to provide the refugees with an environment free of war. Canadians must guarantee that they have the resources that will allow them to thrive.

In addition to speakers, there were a number of cultural performances that highlighted the rich diversity of Canada. This included Colombian dancers from the Colombian Refugee Association based in Hamilton, a classical Indian dance by a talented McMaster student, and a musical performance by Kojo “Easy” Damptey who immigrated to Canada from Ghana. The award winning Hamilton Youth Poets also performed a number of moving poems, highlighting the great talent with in the city. Following was a peace march around the downtown core, where attendees raised awareness of the continual need to work towards peace. Finally, guests were invited to indulge in a free Indian meal. Several community groups were also in attendance to show what supports they could offer to newcomers. The large number truly highlighted Hamilton’s desire to make meaningful change.

Overall, the event was a success with more than a hundred attendees. It garnered a great amount of attention both before and after the day, and was featured in a number of local newspapers and discussed on the radio.

Planning the festival was certainly an exciting challenge for me. It was my desire to make a difference in my community that motivated me to try and exceed all expectations.  I was so thrilled to see our hard work pay off! 

About the Author

Stephanie Bertolo is from Hamilton, Ontario and currently studying Arts and Science at McMaster University.  Stephanie's passion for health and community drives her work with the YCRH, the Hamilton Community Foundation and several groups on McMaster’s campus.