Two Cochrane youths leave for Parliament Hill on Sunday to talk to federal government officials about pressing issues facing Canadian youth.
Zach Cordero and Natonya (Nat) Fedeyko are among the 10 selected from across the nation for BGC's Youth on the Hill event that's associated with its Lead UP 2.0 program.
Out of 700 BGC clubs nationwide, BGC Cochrane was one of just 28 selected to host the new Lead UP 2.0 program. Out of those 28, only 10 spots were granted for Youth on the Hill.
Lead UP 2.0 provides youth with opportunities to engage in service initiatives that will address community needs, encouraging them to develop life and work skills, self-confidence, and self-efficacy, while discovering new opportunities. The program engages under-represented youth in meaningful service and promotes youth civic engagement.
Kendra McColeman, youth mentorship program facilitator at BCG Cochrane and Area, was thrilled to have a chance to select one, let alone two participants to represent the youth of Cochrane and Alberta.
"It's not very often youth even get listened to or get to be in the spotlight, so this entire Youth on the Hill event is just to focus on youth and what they feel is important for them, what needs to be talked about, and what needs to change."
She says she had already narrowed down her decision to send either Nat or Zach when receiving the good news.
Each had already prepared a write-up explaining why they wanted to go, what they had learned from the Lead UP program, and what they wanted to deliver at Parliament. She says both submissions were exceptional.
"It's great news that we can send both of them. They were over the moon ecstatic that they could go because it's such a rare opportunity. They're both great speakers and they're gonna bring to light many important topics that need to be discussed for youth their age and bring this news to Parliament."
She says Nat,16, a grade 11 student at Bow Valley High, is a great speaker.
"She speaks her mind. She's totally invested in the community. Her mom is on town council, so she's familiar with the town government and everything like that, and she just really wants to make a difference for youth."
"Zach immigrated to Canada a few years ago, and ever since he's been here, he's just been a really great voice and spokesperson for all of those people who have come. from other countries to Canada and helps them find out how they get connected to resources and how to just be part of our amazing Cochrane community."
McColeman says they will be spending Monday on Parliament. Their exact itinerary and who they will be meeting is being finalized. It's unknown if it will include Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Nat says she's not too interested in politics, but she's excited about presenting concerns of youth. She's especially interested in learning the ideas of the other participants.
"Everybody is going to share their ideas and then hopefully I can reflect on them, and possibly bring them to Cochrane if they so fit."
"I find that not everyone has great family lives or they need places to go, so really, it's talking about ideas and maybe what we can bring to Cochrane to improve things here."
With the assistance of Bow Valley High teachers, she was able to receive input from students ages 14 to 17 on their top issues.
They include overcrowded schools and high prices for essentials.
"Housing being way too expensive, same with gas prices and food prices, really limits a youth's ability to move out once they're an adult."
Drug use, mental health, and access to proper hygiene products were the others.
Nat wants to pursue the idea of establishing something similar to free little libraries, only for hygiene products.
"There's a lot of shame and stigma around teenagers going to grocery stores and buying things such as condoms and pads. I feel if we had almost an anonymous box put outside drugstores that supplied those things without teenagers having to face stigma or feeling embarrassed about buying totally normal things, I think that would improve some of the stuff we're seeing right now."
Zach is also 16, a student of St. Timothy High School, whose family immigrated to Canada from Hong Kong, first Calgary, then Cochrane about four or five years ago.
Becoming active with BGC opened the door for Zach to become an active volunteer.
"Honestly, it's been great for my mental health. I found a small community of people that I can be around and help, support, and share the community with. It's great."
"Volunteering does a lot more than someone might expect and it does a lot more for you than you would expect, so I think it's a win-win scenario."
He's excited about the opportunity that's now on his doorstep.
"This is such a unique opportunity, not only for myself but the community that I live in. It's something I thought I could do for the community."
Gathering insight from local youth on their concerns, too, has proven to be an eye-opener. He continues to pour over the response he received from a question he posed to students through his school's website. He asked, "Name three things that you are worried about for the youth community in Cochrane."
"There were issues that I didn't account for that I didn't think were much of a problem, but a surprisingly large amount of people raised them."
He continues to digest the information so he can properly present their concerns.
Fifteen youth of various ages are part of Lead UP 2.0 in Cochrane.
"This program just started in September and we've only been running it for a month and a half and they already have this awesome opportunity," says McColeman. "The rest of the program's participants are just so excited for these two youths. Unfortunately, I couldn't send all of them, because I would have, but I'm just glad that we can send two representatives."
More information on BGC's Lead UP 2.0, and the Dare to Dream mentorship program is available here.