Creating lasting change happens one person and community at a time. Recognizing the power youth have in inspiring healthy change in their communities, the Canadian Cancer Society’s Youth 4 Action grant program helps young people across Ontario lead projects that raise awareness about important health policy issues and educate community members about ways to prevent cancer.
This past December, students from a Southern Ontario school decided to make a change in their community. They applied for a grant so they could inform their peers about the tactics big tobacco companies employ to market products to kids and the long-term consequences of lighting up. To deliver this message, the group organized workshops and challenged students to an anti-tobacco poster contest. The workshops exposed industry tactics and helped open students eyes.
“Some students were really shocked when they found out what was actually in a cigarette,” said Sam Trewolla, one of the grant recipients. “Students didn’t seem to realize that flavourings in tobacco products was a way for the industry to lure kids to start smoking.”
The project also served as a tremendous learning opportunity for the youth organizers who gained invaluable leadership experience. “I gained a lot of confidence by presenting to and teaching students,” said Quinn Purser, a grade 11 student and grant recipient.
While some projects undertaken by youth focus on creating change in their school or community, others help bring about local change while also supporting provincial movements. For example, what started as a campaign to raise awareness about the harmful effects of indoor tanning in one community turned into much more.
Students from a Northern Ontario school pledged to not tan ahead of prom and raise awareness about the dangers of indoor tanning beds in their community by organizing events. The events targeted grade twelve students and talked about melanoma, skin cancer, and facts about tanning bed use. Some students also delivered daily announcements and even dressed in orange morph suits and hospital gowns carrying signs that said “the perfect grad dress to go with that tan” to emphasize the consequences of tanning.
Knowing that tanning was an issue that affected all Ontario youth, the organizers also decided to support provincial efforts to pass legislation on banning underage tanning by asking the public to sign petitions of support as part of their community event. The result of the local activities, combined with efforts by other motivated youth from across Ontario, helped play a role in influencing the passage of the 2013 Skin Cancer Prevention Act (Tanning beds), which restricts the use of indoor tanning beds for anyone under the age of 18.
Often times all it takes is one small step in the right direction for change to occur no matter how big or small.
Youth looking to inspire change in their community can find out more information about the Youth 4 Action grants and the application process by visiting www.cancer.ca/youth4action. Youth groups will have two opportunities to apply for grants each year: one in the winter and one in the fall.
Applications for the next round are being accepted between February 2 and February 13, 2015 and is open to youth groups 14 years of age and older. Grants of up to $300 are awarded to projects related to tobacco control, food marketing, increasing physical activity, raising awareness about environmental toxins and the dangers of indoor tanning.