Youth, leadership, and advocacy

By: Rashmeet Dhillon, Communications Assistant Director

Youth are poised and passionate to advocate for their own opinions, experiences, and the rights of vulnerable groups. In their advocacy, they bring important issues to the public eye. Energetic and deeply immersed in their surroundings, youth are well positioned to identify gaps in their community’s needs and take action to fill them. Young people also tend to be more receptive to change and hold a large stake in creating a stronger future for their communities. Youth voices and involvement allows for positive social change to address the needs of their communities and, in turn the needs of their future. Partaking in leadership roles from a younger age not only ensures that the future generation is equipped with competencies necessary for strong leadership, but also enhances young people’s understanding of how to be accountable and inspiring leaders.

The Outrun the Stigma team of 2013 did just that; focusing on developing personal leadership skills while supporting an important social cause.  We have been striving to continue that tradition ever since! The co-founders of OTS, Amy and Leah, came together to fill a gap in mental health conversation on the university campus and in our broader community. Beginning as two clubs, Distress Centre on Campus and Mental Health Awareness Club, the executive teams came together wonderfully to turn the team’s vision of the run into a tangible reality. In the words of Leah, “Amy and I recognized that our team had the optimism and energy of youth, and we wanted to tap into that.  We as youth are willing to use our resourcefulness, optimism, creativity, and passion to put on a successful event.  I think we found a way to make our youth work for us!”

Amy Li (left) and Leah Shipton (right) co-coordinating OTS 2015

Amy Li (left) and Leah Shipton (right) co-coordinating OTS 2015

Inexperienced in run event planning, our team definitely hit some rough patches on the way, especially the first year.  We applied our strategic and organizational leadership skills to take on the innumerable tasks that go into creating this event. Very quickly we learned the importance of having a great team that is willing to work together to overcome obstacles.  We also learned the importance of strong team communications to make sure everyone shares the same vision and adopts the same strategies so that the planning process goes smoothly.

After every annual event, Amy and Leah lead a team debrief to make sure we have a conversation about the parts of the event that went well and the areas that could use some alteration or improvement.  This process has assured that we do not repeat a mistake and we improve from year to year.  Furthermore, every team member is given the option of trying a new position on the planning committee: logistics, communications, design, finance or sponsorship teams.  This give everyone an opportunity to learn new perspectives and skills from a different aspect of the planning process.  It allows us to find the niche that we enjoy the most and to understand our own leadership styles and use them to our team’s advantage.

The idea of a mental health run brought together a very passionate group of individuals who put in countless hours of research, planning, dedication and running around to put on a successful event and bring together a community of mental health advocates, year after year. Participating in OTS has developed our strategic and organizational skills as well as our communication and interpersonal skills through collaboration as a large team of passionate and dedicated young people. The “OTS family” has become more than just a phrase for our team.  We have each other’s back.  We strive to learn from each other and work together to play our role as youth trying to build a future with no mental health stigma.