18 Exceptional Youth Recognized

Since 1957, Optimist Clubs have recognized youth for their talents in the arts, athletics, academics, and contributions to the community. These extraordinary individuals demonstrate qualities such as exceptional leadership, selflessness, courage and sincere devotion to the welfare of others.

The Optimist Club of Waterloo North has had the pleasure of hosting Youth Appreciation events for over 25 years. Well over 250 youth have received recognition from our club for their personal and/or community achievements.

Not even a pandemic could keep the youth of Waterloo Region from getting out and helping their neighbours. 2021 saw a record number of youth nominated for the Optimist 2021 Youth Appreciation awards. 18 phenomenal youth stepped up in their community to help. This year also saw an increase in “Team” work with three sibling teams. With COVID-19 restrictions in place, it was a great benefit to have members of the same family work together in the same bubble.

We congratulate the recipients on their 2021 Youth Appreciation Awards. We also thank each of the community organizations who nominated a young person. Please read their stories below:


Wissler Old Abbey Neighbourhood Association
Sophie

Linda Barretto-Burns nominated Sophie for helping to bring her neighbourhood together during these “social distancing times.” Linda shared:

Sophie is a force to be reckoned with. Last year, Sophie created daily activities for neighbourhood families for a “Countdown to Christmas” event. She divided the participants into teams, recruited captains and made a scoring system with daily results posted to our neighbourhood Facebook page. This task demanded her creativity, organizational skills, enthusiasm, dedication and perseverance. It is rare to have a high school student confident and organized enough to carry out such a project. Sophie also created a report on the event’s success and submitted it to the City to share and inspire other neighbourhoods. In the end, 26 families participated, making new connections. Plus, 91 pounds of food was donated to the local food bank.

“It is a difficult task in this social climate for a young person to create something for people she does not know and where many are being stressed about interacting with others in the community. Sophie was able to do so by being her authentic self, allowing newcomers to feel connected while staying safe. It was a Christmas miracle.

“Since Christmas, Sophie created a cooking class for children in the neighbourhood during the April School Break. The girl does not stop. Her enthusiasm is infectious. I am excited to nominate Sophie for the Optimist Youth Appreciation Award; we have certainly continued to appreciate her efforts as a neighbourhood.”


Girl Guides
Grace

Kris McGee nominated Grace for her work with many different Girl Guide units, saying…

Grace brings a bright energy to our Pathfinder unit and compassion for her peers and Guide leaders. She has been a helper for a Sparks & Brownie Unit for over four years, assisting with meetings both in-person and virtually. She has also given up weekends to help run camps and has participated in many service projects.

“Outside of Girl Guides, Grace is an active member of a synchronized skating team, with which she medaled at a Provincial competition and then went on to compete at a National competition. Grace continued to show her dedication to all of these extra-curricular activities, despite the diagnosis of her Dad’s illness in 2019 and his later passing in 2020.”


The Ripple Effect Education (TREE)

Katie Gingerich nominated three youth who she has worked with through the Peace Innovators Scholarship and Mentoring Program. “It’s inspiring to watch them learn and grow,” said Katie Gingerich of TREE (The Ripple Effect Education). “It is an honour to nominate them.”

Hana

“Hana is a dedicated and enthusiastic activist in her community. I have gotten to know Hana through the Peace Innovators Scholarship and Mentoring Program. She has addressed racism in her school community by organizing an anti-racism conference for educators at Sir John A. Macdonald Secondary School.

“In addition to her participation in the Peace Innovators, Hana is an active participant in her community. In addition to an impressive amount of community volunteering positions, Hana is involved at her school in the environment club, the Optimist club, social justice club, leadership, food drive and fundraising initiatives for the food bank, toy drives, and school equipment. Hana led the Give 30 food drive for Ramadan and has shared her experience as a Muslim girl in Canada at the WRDSB Iftar and dinner. Hana is an inspiring young person with charisma and drive.”


Jennifer

“Jennifer L. is a driven young person committed to making spaces safer and more equitable for members of the LGBTQ+ community. I have gotten to know Jennifer in the Peace Innovators Scholarship and Mentoring Program. She developed an extensive set of educational resources to debunk harmful stereotypes and build supportive language for the LGBTQ+ community.

“In addition to her activism in the Peace Innovators program, Jennifer is a member of her school’s art club, science club, Gay-Straight Alliance, and Fed-Prov. In her community, she has participated in Model UN and is an avid artist and writer. It has been inspiring to watch Jennifer learn and grow this year as an ally and advocate.”


Marina

“Marina W is an enthusiastic young woman who is deeply committed to enacting social change in her community. I have gotten to know Marina in the Peace Innovators Scholarship and Mentoring Program, where I serve as her program mentor. In the program, Marina has developed an initiative, Post Education, which supports youth in low socio-economic households’ access to post-secondary funding information.

“Marina is also an active participant in her school community at Waterloo-Oxford DSS. She is a member of the Student Activities Council’s Charities Committee, the chapter head for the Believe Initiative, and a member of Students Without Borders. This organization raises funds and awareness of local, national and global issues. She has won multiple skating awards and has volunteered over 300 hours to help children learn to skate. It has been a pleasure to get to know Marina and work for change alongside her.”


Social Venture Partners (SVP) Waterloo Region
Maddie

Jill Mills nominated Maddie for her work with Social Venture Partners and the excellent work this organization does, making a difference in Waterloo Region. Jill comments:

Maddie has been a strong voice in youth activism, social development and philanthropy from a very young age. She did her first TedX talk on the topic of helping marine life at the age of 9! She is a Co-Chair of SVP’s youth leadership program, SVP Teens. Through SVP Teens, Maddie brings together 60+ passionate youth (grades 7 – 12) to identify issues in our community and work towards solving them.

“Throughout the year, she guides youth to embrace diverse volunteer opportunities, connects with community leaders, holds multiple fundraisers, and ultimately awards a financial grant to a local charity (this year’s value is $6,000-$8,000). Her passion for making a difference in her community and the world is evident in her role as Chair at SVP Teens. Maddie’s accomplishments are due to her compassionate, kind and ‘dream big’ nature, which has made her a very impressive youth leader in Waterloo Region.”


Food4Kids Waterloo Region

Food4Kids was a familiar volunteer role for many of our recipients. Known as “Bin Jockeys,” these youth would clean and move the bins and greet the drivers as they arrived. Their duties also included packing bags and organizing a variety of food for the children. Jennifer Birnstihl sponsored the following youth, saying “all the kids take great pride in their work. They do whatever task they are asked to do.”

Ashleigh & Kyler

“Ashleigh and Kyler have been dedicated brother-sister volunteers taking on multiple roles here at Food4Kids Waterloo Region, especially during the early days of COVID 19. Between the start of COVID in March 2020 and the end of June, Ashleigh and Kyler assisted in various tasks as needed in the Food4Kids WR office since no outside volunteers were permitted. As my son and daughter, they were allowed to come in since they were ‘in my bubble.’ They helped assemble 200 PPE visors (working along with their older sister) and took on the role of our food packers, putting together the food bags for our children when no one else could, getting the job done.

“They helped move food around and organize and clean bins as needed throughout this challenging time. Ashleigh and Kyler are polite helpers and have taken on a variety of tasks to support our kids. They have done an occasional ride-along with their older sister helping make food deliveries to our family’s homes and schools, unloading and moving food around our warehouse. They work hard bagging, sealing and counting and organizing and sorting various food for our kids and working around the office.

“They will be volunteering for the summer of 2021 and have a good work ethic, and no matter which tasks they are asked to take on and take great pride in their work here, helping feed the hope of children.”


Avery

“Avery has been a dedicated volunteer taking on multiple roles here at Food4Kids Waterloo Region over the past year. She juggles and plans her work schedules around her volunteer roles here and has taken on a leadership role on both our Afternoon Pack Crew and our Friday Morning Bin Jockey Crew helping get out food bins to our drivers. On Thursdays, she has an important role in our food packing line handling and processing all the food bags in our Back End Crew. On Fridays, Avery works hard coordinating our food bins on their routes and keeps carts organized.

“Avery is mature, pleasant and hard working. She greets our volunteer drivers with a smile and takes on a supervisory role keeping things on track and organized throughout this busy morning. She has also lent her time making food deliveries to family’s homes and schools when needed. She brings a positive attitude and good work ethic with her no matter which task she takes on and takes great pride in her work here, helping feed the hope of children.”


Charlie

“Charlie has been a dedicated volunteer taking on multiple roles here at Food4Kids Waterloo Region over the past year. He has taken on a regular role as a bulk food bagging crew member on alternate Wednesdays, working with his Mom. They work hard bagging, sealing and counting and organizing various foods for our children, including cereal and bread items.

“Charlie is polite and pleasant and works hard whenever he is here. He is willing to help us do whatever is needed and works hard with a smile and a positive attitude. Over this past year, he has also lent his time making food deliveries to our family’s homes and schools, unloading and moving food around our warehouse, and helping load vehicles for our drivers on days when we are short-handed. He has a good work ethic, and no matter which task he takes on, he takes great pride in his work here, helping feed the hope of children.”


Charlotte

“Charlotte has been a dedicated volunteer here at Food4Kids Waterloo Region over the past year. In addition to completing her final year of her college program at Conestoga College, she has taken on various jobs helping us. In addition to pitching in with packing food bins all summer, assembling PPE during the start of COVID, she continues to lend her creative talents to help us create various promotional videos for our organization.

“Between the start of COVID in March 2020 and the end of June, she assisted in various tasks as needed in the Food4Kids WR office since outside volunteers were not permitted. As my daughter, she was allowed to come in since she was ‘in my bubble.’ She helped assemble 200 PPE visors (working with her brother and sister) and would come in to help pack food bags for our children as needed to get the job done. In the summer of 2020, she volunteered every Wednesday for nine weeks as a part of our Summer Food Packing Crew, carefully packing the contents of our summer food bins, making sure they were ready for delivery and helping keep things organized.

“Charlotte is a quiet, hard worker who works with a smile. She is willing to do whatever is needed and puts her best efforts with a smile and a positive attitude. She continues to help us with various jobs, including setting up a silent auction, website updates and marketing-related tasks, and decorating our new office. She takes great pride in his work here, helping feed the hope of children.”


Claire

“Claire F. has been a dedicated volunteer here at Food4Kids Waterloo Region over the past year. In addition to completing her final year of her college program at Conestoga College, she worked in packing food bins all summer. For nine weeks during the summer of 2020, she volunteered every Wednesday as a part of our Summer Food Packing Crew, carefully packing the contents of our summer food bins, making sure they were ready for delivery and helping keep things organized.

“Claire is a bubbly, hard worker who works with a smile. She is willing to do whatever is needed and puts her best efforts with a smile and a positive attitude. She takes great pride in his work here, helping feed the hope of children.”


Eva & Josh

“Eva & Josh have been dedicated brother-sister volunteers taking on multiple roles here at Food4Kids Waterloo Region over several years. They regularly assist as part of our Bulk Food Bagging Crew members on alternate Wednesdays (when their cohort allows), working with their Mom. They work hard bagging, sealing and counting and organizing various foods for our children, including cereal and bread items.

“Eva and Josh are polite, enthusiastic helpers and have taken on various tasks to support our kids. Last summer, together, they did a great job running the pick-ups and sales at a special ‘flower sale fundraiser’ we held on-site. Over this past year, they have on occasion done a ‘ride-along with their Mom helping make food deliveries to our family’s homes and schools, unloading and moving food around our warehouse, helping at our evening pack nights.

“Josh has a fun outgoing spirit and is a really good sport. He has enthusiastically donned his inflatable T-Rex costume on several occasions to add to the fun and excitement at special events and to give our volunteers a smile.

“Eva and a friend from school ran a ‘loose change drive fundraiser’ at their school two years ago, bringing in an incredible $1000 to feed “One Child” for an entire year.

“They will be volunteering for the summer of 2021 and have a good work ethic, and no matter which tasks they are asked to take on and they take great pride in their work here, helping feed the hope of children.


Evelyn

“Evelyn has been a dedicated volunteer here at Food4Kids Waterloo Region over the past year. She worked diligently as a key part of our Thursday evening pack night crew for many months keeping things on track and organized throughout the evening. She has also lent her time for other projects throughout the year, including our summer and COVID packs.

“She brings a positive attitude and good work ethic with her and takes great pride in her work here, helping feed the hope of children.”


Hayley

“Hayley has been a dedicated volunteer here at Food4Kids Waterloo Region over the past year. She has taken on a regular role as a bulk food bagging crew member on alternate Wednesdays, working with her Mom. They work hard bagging, sealing and counting and organizing various foods for our children, including cereal and bread items.

“Hayley is a quiet, hard worker who works with a smile. She works hard, helping us do whatever is needed and works hard with a smile and a positive attitude. Over this past year, she has also lent her time helping us with various jobs when needed. She has a good work ethic, and no matter which task she takes on, she takes great pride in her work here, helping feed the hope of children.”


Shea & Blythe

“Shea & Blythe have been dedicated volunteers here at Food4Kids Waterloo Region over the past year. In addition to juggling other part-time jobs and volunteer positions, they took turns packing food bins all summer long. For nine weeks during the summer of 2020, they volunteered on Wednesdays as a part of our Summer Food Packing Crew (teamed up with their grandma Gaye Karges – another great volunteer!). They carefully packed the contents of our summer food bins, making sure they were ready for delivery and helping keep things organized.

“Blythe and Shea are hard workers wearing a smile on their faces to get the job done. They have put their best efforts weekly with a smile and a positive attitude and showed great pride in their work here, helping feed the hope of children.”


Congratulations again to these deserving young leaders!

2021 Oratorical and Essay Competitions

Are you an aspiring author? Or perhaps enjoy public speaking?

The Optimist Club of Waterloo North is looking for local students to participate in our annual Essay Contest and/or Oratorical Contest for the 2020-21 school year.

Students in our area are being invited to showcase their writing and/or public speaking skills in our upcoming virtual events to be held in early 2021.

Contestants will participate in a club-level contest and local winners move on to compete at higher levels where scholarships are awarded to winners. Up to $25,000 in scholarships are available within Optimist International.

Topics for this year’s contests are below. Click on the contest buttons for more details and application forms.

“Healing the World with Optimism”

“Reaching your Dreams by Choosing Optimism”

Bike Rodeo – Social Distancing Edition

Due to COVID-19, our annual bike rodeo was cancelled for 2020. However, in the interest of bike safety for youngsters (as well as having a little fun), the Optimist Club of Waterloo North has decided to share the set up instruction we use when hosting our Bike Rodeo in the parking lot at Christ Lutheran Church in Waterloo.

Participants of our past rodeos know that before you begin, you need a helmet (which fits properly) and your bike needs to be in good running condition. So before you begin, please check out the Young Cyclist’s Guide from the Ministry of Transportation (MTO). The guide has information on bicycle equipment, riding tips and the rules of the road to keep you safe.

Are you ready? Is your helmet fitting properly? Have you ABC Quick Check’d your bike? (If you don’t know what this means, see section 3. before you go: check your bike in the Young Cyclist’s Guide.)

Download the instructions we use for the activities at our Bike Rodeo. Adapt each of the activities to use the space and materials you have available to you. Remember to stay safe with whatever you decide to do.

Additional cycling and bike safety resources:

We are pleased that McPhail’s Cycle & Sport in Waterloo has been an ongoing partner in our Bike Rodeo and has checked and tuned many of our young participants bikes over the years. As an essential business they have been busy keeping cyclists going. We are happy to share the checklist they use when getting bikes ready for their customers. You may find this useful if you want to do a more complete tuning of your bike.


Photos from a previous Bike Rodeo

2020 Club Contest Medalists

At our February club meeting this week, we wrapped up our 2019-2020 Essay and Oratorical contests. Essay contestants wrote on the topic “Is Optimism the Key to Achieving the Dreams you iMagine?” while the Oratorical contestants spoke for five minutes on the topic “Just iMagine a World without Boundaries.”

We applaud all competing students for their creativity and hard work. The winning Essay moves on to compete at the Midwestern Ontario District. The first and second place finishers in the Oratorical Contest participate in the Zone 7 (Waterloo, Kitchener, Cambridge) contest where two speakers will be chosen to compete at the District contest in May. (Scholarships are awarded at the District level and Oratorical Contest winners can move on to compete for additional scholarships regionally and internationally.)

Thank you to the principals, teachers, judges and parents for supporting these talented youth.

2019-2020 Contests Announced

Want to showcase your writing skills? Or your public speaking skills? Consider participating in one or both of our annual contests this school year. With some exceptions, you are welcome to participate every year — an excellent way to practice and develop your skills in a supportive, risk-free environment.

Contestants participate in a club-level contest and winners move on to compete at higher levels where scholarships are awarded to winners. (Click on links below for more details.)

“Is Optimism the Key to Achieving the Dreams you iMagine?”

“Just iMagine a World without Boundaries.”

We look forward to reading your essay or listening to your speech!

A Life Changing Experience

I was fortunate to be selected to represent my school at the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership conference, also known as HOBY.  If I could describe my experience in a few words, it would be inspiring, life changing, and incredibly fun. From the moment I arrived I was attacked with good vibes and lots of spirit.  Throughout the three days we did team building activities, community projects, had a dance, a talent show, and listened to some amazing motivational speakers. 

I left the seminar with many new friends, an inspired mind, and a determination to get involved in my school. My experience at HOBY has encouraged me to do things that without it, I may not have done. It left me feeling empowered and able to do anything.  It left me brave enough to apply for student council, which is now one of my favourite aspects of grade eleven. It’s taught me a lot about being a leader in life and at school. 

I’m so thankful to the Optimist Club for sponsoring HOBY.  It has touch the lives of so many people and has a rippling effect that continues to benefit communities long after the event.  It is unlike any other leadership program out there. The way I live my life would be very different if I hadn’t had this opportunity, and all the other HOBY alumni will tell you the same.  Please continue to sponsor this amazing event and inspire more and more students. Thank you, thank you, for investing in today’s youth, and tomorrow’s leaders. 

A HOBY 2017 participant (from Waterloo Region)


Click here for more information about HOBY.