Turning Kids into Leaders

The Leaders Today program is inspiring local kids to social action.

Turning Kids into Leaders

Craig Kieburger with a class from Sir William Stephenson Public School in Whitby


Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
  Margaret Mead

More and more young people are being moved to social action in their own communities and around the world, thanks to the inspirational work of Canadian brothers Craig and Marc Kielburger.

Craig Kielburger travelled to India in 1995 at the age of 12 to help to put an end to child labour. Founder of Free the Children, an organization that builds schools and finds alternative sources of income for children in developing countries, Craig has since been nominated for three Nobel Peace Prizes, received the Order of Canada, written four books, and is now working on a degree in peace and conflict studies.

In 1999, Craig along with his older brother Marc founded another youth-oriented organization called Leaders Today that aims to train the next generation of leaders and volunteers. Leaders Today trains more than 350,000 young people annually in leadership, volunteering, organizing and speaking skills so that they become more “active local and global citizens.”

Representatives from Leaders Today have visited local schools to inspire students to become actively involved in their communities by working together with non-profit and charitable organizations. “Our students were very inspired after hearing Marc speak about their ‘Me to We’ philosophy,” says John Mackle, director of education at the Peterborough Victoria Northumberland and Clarington Catholic District (PVNCCD) School Board. “Leaders Today is now in all of the elementary and secondary schools in our board,” says Mackle, “which means that 14,000 kids have the opportunity to be involved at different levels.”

Programs geared to age group

Leaders Today has specific programs for different age groups. The “Take More Action” program is designed for elementary school kids. Interested students in grades five to eight participate in a half-day workshop to gain leadership and fundraising skills, and to learn how to be involved in local initiatives all year long. “With help from a teacher and resources from the organization, they spend the year promoting a cause,” says Mackle.

The “Volunteer Now” program is geared to secondary school students who participate in in-depth workshops on leadership and speaking skills, active listening, and social involvement. During a recent workshop at Holy Cross Secondary School, “the kids were really encouraged to become involved, to realize the many options out there,” says Teresa Cosentino, pastoral care teacher. “Every student in that group is now doing something to make a difference – they are volunteering in the Amigos program in our special education department, are involved in social justice issues in the city, and some even went on an aid mission to Honduras.”

The “Youth and Philanthropy” initiative encourages Grade 10 students to learn more about local non-profit organizations and charities. Each group researches an organization, such as a women’s shelter or youth club, then gives a presentation about it to the class. The presentations are judged by peers and adults, with the “winning” charity receiving a $5,000 donation from the Toskan Foundation, a partner of the Leaders Today initiative.

“I’m very impressed with the level of commitment of our students and the dedication they have to social action,” Mackle concludes.

Other school boards active too

Other local school boards also support the Kielburgers in various ways. At the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board, for example, many schools hold fundraisers in support of Free the Children, says the Board’s communication officer Judy Malfara. “They also participate in the Me to We campaign,” says Malfara.

Over at the Durham District School Board, schools are also working with the Kielburgers. After Sinclair Secondary School in Whitby received a visit from Craig Kielburger, they along with other schools in the Durham board took part in Free the Children’s “Adopt-a-Village” program, says communications manager, Andrea Pidwerbecki. The Adopt-a-Village program supports four aspects of community development – education, healthcare, alternative income, and water and sanitation – in China, Kenya, Sierra Leone and Sri Lanka.

“Both Sinclair Secondary and Sir William Stephenson schools now have Youth in Action committees that raise funds and awareness for the Adopt-a-Village program,” continues Pidwerbecki. “And recently a student from Sinclair went to South America to work with the Leaders Today program.”

If you’d like more information about the Leaders Today program, visit www.metowe.com.

Author: Joanne Culley

Joanne Culley is a writer and documentary producer with two sons; joanne.culley@sympatico.ca or www.joanneculleymediaproductions.com.

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