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A Regent Park Advcocate Given Ontario's Highest Youth Honour

04/24/2013 04:41 EDT | Updated 06/23/2013 05:12 EDT

On the occasion of being the National Volunteer Week all across Canada, Ontario via the Honourable David C. Onley -- Lieutenant Governor of Ontario - honored nine outstanding young leaders earlier this week. They will be presented with the Ontario Medal for Young Volunteers -- Ontario's highest honour for youth.

According to the Province of Ontario, the "honourees championed causes such as increasing access to education and community resources, enhancing safety in schools and increasing awareness of social issues." Among the nine recipients is Mohsin N. Khan -- the executive director of Lead2Peace.

Congratulations on being chosen as the recipient of the Ontario Medal for Young Volunteers. What does this honour mean to you?

I am honoured to receive this award, because it is a reminder of the all hard work my colleagues and I have put into the community over the past five years. It showcases the impact of Lead2peace on youth, and further motivates me to continue working with the community.

Tell me about Lead2Peace? Share with me your experience.

Lead2Peace has two main programs. The in-school leadership program consists of going into classrooms on a weekly basis and taking the students outside to learn about social issues first hand. Through this the youth are asked to explore the root causes of these problems. Then using the knowledge and skills they have gained through the program, the youth are asked to create a service learning project with a budget of $2,000 that will benefit their community by addressing the social issue of their choice. This gives them the opportunity to lead, and try out different ideas, creating the space for real innovation. The youth have done projects ranging from creating a massive garden shaped as a Peace sign to publishing a book on the impact of the Regent Park revitalization.

The second program provides youth with a chance to learn the fundamentals of Taekwondo in their gym classes and local community centres. The program is designed to improve the fitness level as well as provide a medium to relieve stress and gain skills such as discipline, self-confidence, and control. This is something many of these youth would otherwise be unable to afford. The main reason for this program was to expose youth to martial arts without them worrying about the high cost. Through key partnerships, the program provides all the equipment necessary such as uniforms to create an authentic environment for youth. After a certain period of time, the youth test for a higher rank and belt.

Lead2peace has been a work in progress, ever changing to better meet the needs of the community. Over the last five years, we have grown from a small group of friends to an organization that is widely recognized for its innovation. Looking back at our first year, the belief has not changed, which is that if you allow young people to lead, and give them the resources, great things happen. We have learned a lot, in terms of dealing with the complex workings of running an organization, as well as developing the time management skills to balance Lead2peace alongside school.

Why is it important to mentor and support grassroot groups such as Lead2Peace?

Grassroots groups are the risk takers and innovators of the non-profit sector. Supporting them allows the pursuit of new ideas that have great potential to make an impact. In almost three years, the group has grown to be inclusive of older youth and has focused its efforts in to classrooms. Tell us about that?

We try to expand our programs to as many youths as possible. To benefit more than just elementary students but high school as well. This is because to create change in a community, you need to impact as many demographics as possible. To do this we have created key partnerships that allow us to reach the older youth through in school and after school programming.

To young people who may want to emulate such an activist journey, what advice do you have?

In the end of the day, key things to remember are;

· Always pursue your passion, that way work seems less like work and more like play

· Surround yourself with a good team of people who you can rely on

· Network as much as possible

· Try your best, but when it's out of your hands, relax