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• Jun 20, 2018

Jenna Harris co-created her school’s first Black Students Association after she organized a meeting to learn about her classmates’ experiences and struggles with prejudice. Harris plans to study biomedical or electrical engineering.

Sometimes it's a tap on the shoulder that signals your life is about to change. That's how it happened for Jenna Harris, a grade 12 student who was asked by a teacher to consider creating her school's first-ever Black Students Association.

"Ms. Riley came up to me one day, tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘Hey, you should do this,’” recalls Harris, a student at Cawthra Park Secondary School in Mississauga, Ontario. "Initially I was nervous in case students didn't want to participate, but deep down I knew it was a good idea. Our school needed a safe place where students could have frank conversations about their experiences, instead of pushing it aside."

Harris took the challenge to co-create the association, and helped build a more inclusive environment by establishing panel discussions, inviting guest speakers and creating a place for students to discuss their experiences. As a result, her dedication helped pave the way for her to be chosen as one of twenty recipients of this year's TD Scholarships for Community Leadership award.

Harris and other members of Cawthra Park's Black Students Association.

The scholarship program recognizes the achievements of youth who are making a societal difference and helps them realize educational goals by providing them with up to $70,000 for post-secondary education tuition and living expenses, along with possible summer employment and mentorship opportunities.

Harris shared that she was still in shock over winning the scholarship.

"As the co-creator of Cawthra's Park Secondary School Black Student Association, Jenna Harris is helping lead positive social change and is creating a more inclusive future," says Jane Thompson, Executive Director, TD Scholarships for Community Leadership, TD Bank Group.

"She empowers the people around her to do their best. Jenna Harris was also involved in student council, tutored peers in math and science, and danced in her school's urban dance club. All of these accomplishments deserve recognition."

Standing next to Harris at the scholarships award ceremony in Ottawa, Ontario, on May 29th was Ivan Chiang.

Looking beyond superficial ‘band-aid solutions’, Ivan Chiang helped create a media campaign around the stories of real people living on the streets to help inspire empathy and destigmatize homelessness.

Chiang, a Burnaby, B.C. native, was told growing up to keep walking and avoid eye-contact with anyone that was homeless. He always struggled with that piece of advice, and didn't understand why he should treat individuals who were homeless differently. Instead he founded a youth-led initiative created to destigmatize homelessness called The Hot Potato Initiative.

“Our name, The Hot Potato Initiative, represents the looming homelessness crisis, the stigma around it, and how society tosses it around," says Chiang, who recalls being struck by a newspaper article reporting on the homeless crisis the Metro Vancouver Region which said nearly 4,000 people were in need of immediate housing.

"One day I saw another story that listed the nutritional benefits of a baked potato," says Chiang. "So every couple weeks, my friends and I hit the streets and give out baked potatoes to residents of the Downtown Eastside. Week after week, we see first-hand how this small gesture makes a positive difference in morale and helps alleviate hunger. Sometimes, offering something as simple as a warm meal and a meaningful conversation can uplift spirits and make all the difference."

Ivan and other passionate high school student's pack up to 250 hot meals into coolers and deliver them to homeless citizens of the Downtown Eastside.

The Hot Potato Initiative was founded by Ivan and seven other students from Burnaby Mountain Secondary School. Since then, more than fifty youth across B.C's Lower Mainland have joined the initiative.

"Actions speak louder than words," said Chiang, who also profiles the stories and faces of Vancouver's homeless on Facebook. "Our objective is to break down barriers so people could see the homeless as real people."

This year marks the 23rd anniversary of the TD Scholarships for Community Leadership program. Since being created, the program has contributed more than $22 million to 460 Canadian high school students for their post-secondary education.

Have you or someone you know made their community a better place? Then we want to hear from you. Check out the TD Scholarships for Community Leadership website for more information.

On May 29th, 2018, 20 of Canada’s outstanding young leaders were recognized in Ottawa, ON. Theresa McLaughlin, Executive Vice President and Global Chief Marketing Office, TD Bank Group was there to help celebrate their exceptional contributions as recipients of the 2018 TD Scholarships for Community Leadership.