“Just because we’re young, doesn’t mean we can’t do something for our community.”Youth Champions, Eel Ground First Nation
“Just because we’re young, doesn’t mean we can’t do something for our community. We’ve become mentors to the younger students. We give them someone to look up to.”
This sentiment was shared by nine of Natoaganeg School’s Youth Champions – students who have taken on a leadership role to help create a healthier school and community in Eel Ground First Nation – while reflecting on their experiences in the days leading up to their grade eight graduation.
“Being a youth champion gives you a sense of responsibility. You need to have a positive attitude and be willing to put in the work,” one Youth Champion explained.
She was right – her teammates agreed it had been a lot of work. As Youth Champions, they had been responsible for organizing school and community events like harvest festivals, healthy food stations for sports events, and organizing healthy food options at school dances.
They had also taken lead roles in the community’s Fresh4Less program, where families receive packages of healthy, fresh food at an affordable price. They helped out at the new Natoaganeg Community Food Centre and they were often found in the school and community gardens helping to grow, maintain, and harvest food and traditional medicine.
It has meant that they’ve learned a lot about working together, healthy food, cooking, gardening, and how youth have the power to make real change in their school and community. One of the Youth Champions’ biggest feats was helping to make healthy eating “cool” to the younger students:
“We keep a healthy environment here. Kids have more fun. They like the salad bar and they like it a lot because they see us eating from it.”
From convincing their school to allow Youth Champions to wear hats on special days that say “Eat Healthy” on the back, to mentoring younger students and modeling healthy behaviour, they’ve helped to transform their entire school’s outlook on food – students and teachers alike.
The role inspired many of them to go above and beyond what had been asked of them – with one student starting his own fresh orange juice stand at the Community Food Centre on weekends.
And while being a Youth Champion has been a lot of work, they admit it didn’t come without perks.
“We’ve had a lot of opportunities that other students don’t get. We’re also more involved with the community and our elders. We feel lucky because other schools don’t have these healthy choices,” they explained.
A highlight this year has been organizing a fundraising event to host Top Chef Canada finalist, Chef Rich Francis, who will cook meals with indigenous ingredients for community members later this month.
As soon-to-be graduates, their focus had started to shift to the new generation of Youth Champions who will take over their responsibilities come fall. Their graduation ceremony included passing on their Youth Champion chef coats to the new group – a gesture which came with encouragement and advice:
“It’s a lot of commitment. They have to be patient. They’re going to be relied on, and they can’t let others down. But it’s also going to be a lot of fun.”
They are confident that the new Youth Champions will rise to the challenge, but they are ready to help coach them too – which they say, is one of the best parts about their close-knit community: “there is always help if you need it.”
With big dreams for their future, they each in their own way want to continue to help create healthier environments – and after carving the path at their school for those who will come after them, they know that they have the skills, knowledge, and spirit to change their classrooms, community and the world.
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Encouraging youth to be leaders within their community is a gift that will last a lifetime! Provide special support to a group of youth to empower them to be nutrition advocates for their school and community.Find out more
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