By Jake Kivanc
Energized and ready to go, over 300 youth came together this weekend to shake hands with, and learn from, some of Canada’s iconic figures at the Toronto 2015 Pan-Am YouthSummit.
Bringing together Ontario youth from ages 16-24, the summit, organized by and for the upcoming Toronto 2015 Pan-Am Games, aimed to “inspire a sense of leadership” in the participants, according to chief spokesperson Teddy Katz.
“The goal at the end of all this is that the youth will go back to their home communities and become leaders,” he said.
Although space was limited, Katz said that the summit aimed to be as diverse as possible in their representation of the youth, noting that all of the selected teenagers and young adults had gone through an application process over the last year that screened them based on geography, background and experience.
Taking place at the Mattamy Athletic Centre, one of the planned events at the summit was organized by PrideHouse Toronto and focused on engaging youth in activity while promoting knowledge about LGBTQ awareness in sports and abroad.
Attendees competed against each other in tricycle races and obstacle courses while learning about how to be inclusive of different groups within the LGBTQ community.
A project three years in the making, the summit also brought together a plethora of guest speakers and mentors for the attendees to interact with. Big names at the two-day event ranged from Toronto Raptor Greivis Vasquez to Paralympic swimmer and gold medalist Stephanie Dixon, as well as figures like Premiere Kathleen Wynne and Juno award-winner JRDN.
One of the main aspects Katz said was important when planning the project was the ability to humanize the high-profile guests and bring them down to a level that the youth could relate with.
“They’re all sharing stories about what they went through as youth, their dreams and the obstacles they faced,” he said. “It’s to get the youth to think, ‘Oh, I didn’t know he went through that,’ and get them to think about how they overcame that.”
Domanique Grant, 24, has been working on the project since the beginning as a member of the Youth Advisory Council, a subcommittee created to help scout the 300 or so chosen youth.
Despite the difficult of fairly representing as many aspects of youth identity as possible, Grant described the experience of bringing it all together as worth it.
“I think it’s magical,” she said. “I go to so many different conferences, but to come into a place where you have athletes and artists and young people all in a space and they’re all talking about one commonality of achieving goals, and they’re all so passionate. That’s really exciting.”
Beginning Saturday morning and running to Sunday afternoon, the summit opened with a plethora of panels ranging from social media usage and self-branding all the way to healthy living and lessons on confidence.
In the afternoon and evening of the first day, a set of 13 events and group activities such as scavenger hunts and races took place across the downtown core, while the second day ended with closing remarks from the key-note speakers.