This summer, I spoke to dozens of youth about the challenges faced by young people in Toronto today.
One particular young woman’s story continues to weigh on me. She spent an hour telling me about what it’s like to be a young newcomer in this city. Immersed in a culture vastly different from her family’s — or struggling to straddle both — she belongs to a religion that is misunderstood. Her parents are low-income and lack the social network they need to thrive in this country. She’s had trouble making friends.
I was struck by the fact that most of the barriers to wellbeing she faces stem solely from who she is and what she believes. I was also struck by her unbelievable strength and grace. As a young person, my experience was so different from hers.
As the President of United Way, I get to witness the generosity and kindness of people across Toronto every single day. We are, in so many ways, a giving city. One that is famous for being multicultural and open to differences.
But the reality is, as some of you have commented, that even with all of the gains we’ve made over the last several decades, the challenges faced by young people persist. They are big and real: racism, poverty, disengagement, unemployment and stigma.
I truly believe that by investing in supports for young people — strategies to help them graduate and move on to post-secondary, programs to get them involved in our community, services to find them a job, mental health supports, role models — we are making a long-term difference. But we still have a long way to go.
As we continue in vital discussions with youth, social service agencies, government about what more we can do to address big issues together, we need to remember the very real stories of those affected by them. I know I will hold them close.