Sara Jamal: #Rising Youth dispelling
stereotypes in Toronto

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

My name is Sara Jamal. I’m a grade 12 high school student from Toronto, Ontario. I’m of Ethiopian descent and a proud first-generation Canadian! Growing up, I was trying to be innovative and that manifested into my love for giving back. I come from the Lawrence Heights community, commonly known as the “Jungle.” As a long-time resident, my goal has been to dispel the negative stereotypes of my neighborhood by creating informative programs for youth.

How did you hear about #RisingYouth, and what inspired you to apply?

To be honest, I was just surfing the web to see if there were any organizations that would be willing to fund my program, and luckily, I stumbled upon the Rising Youth grant and decided to apply, as I had nothing to lose. I quickly drafted and submitted my program plans to TakingIT Global. I let myself forget about the application so that I would be prepared for the worst, but to my surprise, I got good news!

Can you explain what your project is, how you came up with it, and the purpose of it?

With the help of the Rising Youth grant, I kickstarted Knitting in Motion. The program brings together youth and seniors to knit clothing for women’s homeless shelters in Toronto. I originally only intended to create the program for seniors, but later thought the more hands the merrier. This was an opportunity for me to increase community interaction while coming together for the greater good. My idea started off simple, barely spoken into existence. This changed once I reached out to TakingIT Global.

What has the reaction to your project been in your community?

At first many elderly people were ecstatic and thought it was a great idea. However, I did meet some hurdles when trying to recruit kids my age. This reaction didn’t shake me and with the help of a few mentors, I was able to get more youth on board while also offering volunteer hours as an incentive. The project’s ongoing success is definitely a step in the right direction for my community. It’s helped me destigmatize the stereotypes that are associated with a low-income area.

Why do you think it is important for youth to be engaged in community service initiatives like #RisingYouth?

I am a living example of how Rising Youth impacted me and my community, I hope my testimonial serves as inspiration and motivation for youth. I’m a firm believer in kids being the future and where else should this start than your own backyard? It is important for youth to continue being involved in these initiatives because they get to be the ones to take action and create change for the better.

If youth are interested in applying for a Rising Youth Community Service Grant but don’t know where to start, where do you suggest they find project ideas?

I always feel like it’s a great idea to talk to friends, teachers, parents and community leaders. Most importantly, like minded youth. Personally, I was motivated by using other people’s ideas, which helped me create a concrete plan. Also, don’t be shy, speak your ideas into existence and you will see how they’ll play out.

What have been some of the highs and lows of getting your project off the ground?

The hardest part for me was realizing how much help I needed to start the project. I came to the early conclusion that it wasn’t a one-man show, so I asked community members to see if they’d be willing to volunteer. To my surprise, the amount of people that were ready to help was overwhelming. As for the lows, I’d have to say at times, I wasn’t sure how I was going to increase enrolment and engagement, but I got past this with several brainstorming sessions.

Any final advice or suggestions for youth who are considering applying?

Don’t be afraid to take the risk. You never know what the outcome might be! Trust the process — a motto I live my life by. If you believe in your idea, it exists. You just need to create the physical form. Though this may be a hurdle, don’t be afraid of the challenge!

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