Over the past year we’ve met some incredible young people throughout Toronto and York Region. We’re excited to share their stories with you and hope you’ll be as inspired as we are by everything they’ve accomplished with a lot of hard work and passion…and a little help from United Way.
1. Justine Chen See: Justine worried that she’d never have a job. Born with an intellectual disability, the 23-year-old faced much uncertainty as to what her future had in store. But with a little help from her incredibly dedicated mom and a whole lot of determination and hard work, Justine found employment—and a community—at a tuck shop in a long-term care facility in Richmond Hill. It’s just one of the many ways United Way-funded agency Community Living York South is helping families like Justine’s help themselves. Justine loves her job and handles various responsibilities including serving customers, preparing food and doing inventory—tasks she never thought she’d have on her resume. She is a wonderful reminder of what people of all abilities are capable of when they’re given the opportunity. Way to go, Justine!
2. Matthew Romeo: Matthew Romeo may be a big-time DJ and speaker—but it’s where he started from that inspired us to add him to our list. Matthew moved to Toronto when he was 18 with only two bags of clothes, less than $2 in his pocket and a dream to pursue a career as a musician. But, he soon found himself living on the streets: hungry, depressed and afraid. Despite these seemingly insurmountable odds, Matthew connected with The Remix Project, a United Way-funded initiative that helps young people find careers in creative industries. With passion, determination and a whole lot of talent, “DJ Romeo” turned his dream into a reality. Now he spins records with some of the biggest names in the biz (Toronto-born Drake!) and finds ways to inspire other youth with his story of personal transformation and possibility.
3. Christianne De Jesus: At just 19, Christianne inspires us with her passion for community and her genuine desire to help others. Despite juggling a busy course load and pursuing her dream of becoming a doctor, Christianne saw an opportunity to unite her neighbourhood around the power of song. With a little help from United Way, the piano teacher and university student started a neighbourhood choir that brought members—young and old—of her diverse Bathurst-Finch community together. The choir, which meets weekly, has become a source of pride for both Christianne and its 30-plus members who have developed strong ties to each other and the community. “It makes me so happy to know my neighbours have become friends,” she says. And like her neighbours, we’re singing her praises. We can’t wait to see what’s next for Christianne!
4. Jason J’Grant Davy: Jason inspires us because he found the courage to be himself—despite facing adversity head on. After years of experiencing discrimination in his home country of Jamaica, he fled to Canada in search of safety and a sense of belonging. He found both at United Way’s Access Point on Danforth (APOD) Community Hub. “Their LGBTQ+ Settlement Support program was absolutely welcoming,” says Jason. “It was the first place I could actually be gay.” Now, Jason has his sights set on pursuing a career in psychology or social work so he can help others find the strength they need to be proud of who they are.
5. Cheyenne Squires: Not too long ago, Cheyenne was on the brink of homelessness, in need of a warm meal and shelter from the wrath of winter. But a visit to Native Child and Family Services of Toronto changed everything. There, Cheyenne found more than just the support she needed to get back on her feet—she also found a way to give back. Now, you can still find Cheyenne at the same United Way-funded agency—but she’s currently employed there as a Relief Worker. She makes us proud because she uses her experience to help youth just like her navigate complex social challenges from poverty to unemployment. She found her own possibility and now she’s helping others achieve their full potential, too.
To learn more about how we’re supporting youth facing barriers realize bright futures, check out our Youth Success Strategy.