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We Day serves as inspiration for local students

David Vandenburg is constantly inspired by his students. The Elmira District Secondary School teacher is the faculty sponsor of the Youth in Action student group at the school. The group, consisting of about 48 students, participated in the region’s first annual We Day sponsored by RIM and Free the Children on Feb. 17. The day featured speakers such as Al Gore and Rev. Jesse Jackson as well as bands and other activities to send a message to students: young people can change the world.

Although Vandenburg oversees the club, it is the students who come up with the ideas for activities.

CATALYSTS FOR CHANGE Inspired to “be the change” they want to see in the world, 48 members of the EDSS Youth in Action group attended the first We Day Waterloo in Kitchener Feb. 17. The day encouraged activism and social justice in teens, with speakers like Al Gore and Rev. Jesse Jackson. Back row: teacher David Vandenburg, Stuart Arsenault, Haily Clin, Mariah Martin, Tarrah Joy Martin, Tessa Charnuski, Emily Mechler, Kelsey MacDonald and Emily Sider. Front row: Sarah Witherspoon, Meghan O’Brien, Jorja Ruppert and Madi Jones.

“It’s the students’ ideas, it’s the students’ initiative and it’s their organization that makes these events run,” Vandenburg said. “It’s important for them because of the philosophy that young people can make a difference.”

Grade 12 student Mariah Martin, a student leader and club member at EDSS, volunteered at the event held at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium in addition to participating with her friends.

“It was important just to motivate myself and really empower myself to continue doing what I’m doing,” said Martin. “Just being there with 48 other students and seeing them empowered was really cool too.”

Martin said the ideas and motivation put forward at the event is something she will carry with her not only through the rest of the school year, but throughout her life as well.

“It’s important for me to be a voice for people who don’t have that voice,” she said. “It’s important for other people to know about the issues that people in our world are facing on a daily basis.”

As part of the volunteer work Martin did, she met Rev. Jesse Jackson at the event. She describes the experience as amazing.

“They were incredible speakers and extremely inspiring,’ she said. “Their messages were to tell us we are the generation of change. We are not the future, we are the present.”

Participating in the day is inspiring more projects for the group, including raising awareness for homelessness and hunger. Vandenburg is excited to participate in any of the activities the group comes up with.

“It’s different than my typical experience in the classroom where I’m trying to motivate them to do things, here they have the motivation to do things,’ he said. “It’s exciting to see their ambition and their idealism.”

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