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Posted: May 15, 2012  : Add to Mixx! Subscribe to stories like this Share

Leah Larocque's Column
Leah Larocque is a graduate of Queen's University (2011) in Kingston, Ontario where she ran track and cross-country. She was Ottawa's "Road Racer Of The Year" for 2010 and 2011. She has a personal best time of 17:32.9 which she set while winning the Ottawa Race Weekend 5K in 2011.
In 2010 she was the first local finisher in Emilie's Run leading the OAC Racing Team to a first place in the team competition.

Leah is currently a Publications and Communications Assistant with the Ottawa Senators. She is continuing to run and will be writing a regular column for the Runner's Web. She is continuing to run and will be writing a regular column for the Runner's Web.(Column Index)

Life: Motivate Canada

The problem with contract work is that inevitably, the contract ends and you find yourself out of a job and at a loss for things to do. This is how I felt last week when I packed up my desk and the contents of the past few months of my life and left the office for the very last time as an employee. It seemed to have gone by so quickly and yet it also felt like I had been there forever. I was so sad to go, yet every day I felt myself learning, growing and developing. I got my first glimpse into the world of working life. But now what?

I had no idea what to do with myself for the awkward period in between jobs. I would go for runs and yoga classes. But that only takes you so long. I can't run all day! I tried to do a bit of cooking. Despite the hot weather, I cranked the oven on and whipped open the Jamie Oliver cookbooks. I spent afternoons cooking frittatas, cupcakes, and lentil soup. After there were no more Tupperware containers to help my endeavours; I tried to read a bit, and yet I could not settle myself. I tried to watch the season one of the Big Bang Theory and get a good grip on the life of Sheldon Cooper. I even tried to write a column or a blog entry, but the motivation to take on something new just escaped me.

In between a nap and a coffee break; I received a text message from my sister on Thursday to see if I was willing to help volunteer one evening at a youth conference she was organizing through work. I wanted volunteered for a few reasons. The first being, that I am an awesome younger sister (note: please reference this column around Christmas time). The second was that she is always talking about this conference and I wanted to see it first hand and meet all the people she has been talking about for months. And thirdly, this was my chance to get a glimpse into what it is exactly my sister does for a job.

My sister Lauren works for Motivate Canada. Motivate Canada is a Canadian charitable organization that focuses on cultivating the lives of Canadian youth "by fostering civic engagement, social entrepreneurship, social inclusion and leadership among youth." Techniques from sports, physical education, and community drive progress in the programming. The organization began 20 years ago as only one program and has now developed into many solid initiatives all over Canada.

One of the initiatives was the ACTIVATE Conference that was help this past weekend at Carleton University. Fully supported by the Government of Canada, ACTIVATE 2012, May 9-13, was a 5-day forum about "empowering youth to create positive change in their communities." Much of the focus was put on youth leadership rather than the usual top-down approach. Instead of the idle and boring inactive way, what I thought ingenious about ACTIVATE, was the way that sport, physical activity and recreation was utilized as a tool for personal and community development. The youth will then use the tools built during the weekend and can then bring them back to the communities across Canada to build healthier and active connections that can hopefully spread a grassroots positive change. ACTIVATE 2012 was organized and delivered by a group of volunteer youth leaders from all across Canada. The Youth Volunteer Organizing Committee is made up of eight leaders who have participated as delegates in a previous ACTIVATE National Youth Leadership Forum.

I was impressed by all of the volunteers. They came from all over Canada. Among them were unique individuals likes Adam from Nunavut who led an Inuit games initiative. He was quiet yet sincere. There was the lively Emily from B.C. whose smile was contagious and I dare anyone to try to keep a straight face when she herself takes on a giggle. Then there was Kyle from Newfoundland who cracked the understated jokes but you could tell his whole heart was into the conference. Zach was Mr. Serious and wanted the program to go without a hitch. He worked tirelessly the whole evening. I thought so much of ALL the volunteers and congratulated my sister on a great crew.

Over 50 youth aged 16-22 from every province and territory in Canada came together as delegates over the conference and took on interactive workshops presented by guest speakers and other youth as well as lots of physical activities. The aim was to "increased skills, increased confidence, a greater network of friends, resources/tools, an action plan and a greater understanding of themselves as leaders." This was the National Forum; yet smaller more intimate forums exist. ACTIVATE North engages Aboriginal youth and searches for ways to create youth-driven development. The goal of ACTIVATE North is to provide First Nation, Inuit and Métis youth with a opportunity to voice their ideas and opinions and offer skills and resources to contribute to their communities.

The National ACTIVATE conferences began in 2004 as Motivate Canada's way of improving the activity and health of communities across Canada by making youth take on the role of leaders. The newly empowered youth then take these skills back to their communities. After the conference has ended, the participants can implement projects of sports or active recreational programs; they decide on the project, how it will be run, and the amount of time and effort they invest.

This year, I was given the task to help out on the fitness night. I was going to lead a few of the groups in yoga sessions. Despite the last minute preparation, I fell back on all the tricks of the trade that my yoga teachers had told me. I was nervous because I thought the most of the older kids (especially the boys) would think yoga was a joke and they would laugh at what I was doing and not take it seriously. I was nervous that they would think that I was silly and just like back in high school gym- most of them would sulk and leave the group.

Boy, was I wrong! Not only was I impressed with the overall enthusiasm of the groups; but the volunteers running the groups and the amazing diversity of the whole conference made me realize that if the future is in the hands our youth- we are in good hands. I now resent the Letters to the Editors in the paper that are constantly calling our youth insolent and lamenting over the lack of participation in the community. I realized after my time with some of our Canadian youth that often it is not a lack of motivation that is holding them back- but the lack of opportunity and resources that gives them the tools to flourish. Most of the youth are willing and eager to make a difference- we just need to let them. Motivate Canada is able to engage young people, build their confidence and sense of self-worth that inspires their social and vocational competence.

As I met the volunteers and delegates I was so impressed with how well represented each corner of Canada was. Some of the kids had never been on airplanes or to Ottawa. This was an opportunity of a life time. The seemed to mingle and connect with the others right away and it was so pleasant to see kids actually getting along.

I feel old when I think of "the youth," considering they were so mature, but I am happy to know that there is so much hope for us. We need to engage our youth more often and give them the trust and faith that they deserve. Children are the future and we need to allow them to make the best possible environment for our children and other generations to come. They have the creativity, the know-how, and now the skills. We just need to make them realize that they have them; and conferences like ACTIVATE are giving them the change to recognize their potential.

For more information on Motivate Canada or the Activate conference:

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