Across Canada, there are thousands of young people living with blinding eye diseases, low vision, and blindness. But, if you are under 30, you may feel alone in your community. Trust us, you are not alone. In fact, you are in pretty great company—just look at the members of FFB’s National Young Leaders Program.
In 2015, the Foundation Fighting Blindness (FFB) launched the National Young Leaders Program to create leadership and mentoring opportunities to help young people to thrive personally and professionally, in addition to building connections among young people living with low vision and blindness. You can meet some of the Young Leaders by watching the video below, which was generously created by George Sheen, who volunteers his time on the FFB’s Board of Directors. Lucky for us, George also volunteers his leadership training expertise and has been instrumental in launching the National Young Leaders program.
Read a transcript of the above video in an accessible Word format.
Last year, we received applications from coast-to-coast from young people to join the inaugural Young Leaders Summit, a leadership development event held in Toronto. Thanks to incredible volunteers and leaders from our community, including, Victoria Nolan, a Paralympian rower, author and outspoken advocate for people living with low vision; Stephen Aylward, a Rhodes scholar and accomplished lawyer; and Michael Ovens, who co-founded the FFB’s multi-million dollar cross-Canada fundraiser, Cycle for Sight, and also volunteers his time as an FFB board member, the first Summit was a resounding success!
Inaugural Young Leaders Summit
In its kick-off year, the 2015 Summit introduced young leaders to each other, and also introduced them to the concepts of strengths-based leadership and advocacy. Participants learned to identify their core strengths and consider how to best develop these strengths in order to make positive changes personally, professionally, and in their communities. Together, the young leaders crafted plans to help one another achieve different goals. All of this was made possible by the incredible volunteers who co-designed and led the program: Dr. Mahadeo Sukhai and Amy Soden.
Both Mahadeo and Amy have unique experiences and expertise working with young people living with low vision and blindness. Dr. Sukhai became Canada’s first blind cancer researcher after he completed his Ph.D. at the University of Toronto. Currently, he is the Head of the Variant Interpretation Group within the Genome Diagnostics division of the Laboratory Medicine Program at the University Health Network. Mahadeo also serves on the CNIB’s national Board of Directors where he is the chair of the Public Education and Advocacy Committee and a mentor to CNIB’s National Youth Council. Most recently, he was a member of the 2015 Governor General’s Canadian Leadership Conference. We are so grateful for the tremendous role that he played in launching the Summit. Amy is an experienced fundraising and strategic communications professional with over four years of experience working with non-profit organizations. She is also actively involved with CNIB’s National Youth Council as a co-mentor with Mahadeo. We are thrilled to report that Amy recently joined the FFB staff. According to Amy, “being a part of the vision loss community allowed me to discover my passion: helping people who face barriers in life.” We are so fortunate that Amy will be playing an instrumental role in designing future youth programming while also working in our philanthropy department on major gift fundraising.
How are we measuring the success of the Young Leaders Program?
Ultimately, the long-term goal of the Young Leaders Program is to help young people with vision loss to excel personally, professionally, and as a community. Unfortunately, people living with low vision and blindness encounter significantly higher unemployment rates. Our goal is to design a program and a community that can change this statistic. In the short term, we measure our success by the experiences of the young people who have joined the program. We are thankful for people like Shaini Saravanamuthu, who traveled from Montreal to participate in the Young Leaders Summit and agreed to share her story. We are thankful for Rylan Vroom, who is a member of the National Young Leaders Program and also volunteers at the FFB’s annual Vision Quest educational conference to teach about assistive technologies. We are thankful to Alisha Brown, who has spearheaded the development of a peer support group for young people living with vision loss. Their stories hold incredible power. Stories bring us together and remind us that we are all working together to build a better future for people living with vision loss. If you are interested in joining the program, please let us know. We are planning lots of exciting opportunities in 2016 and we hope that you will be a part of them.