09/17/2012 05:07 EDT | Updated 11/16/2012 05:12 EST

How the Duke of Edinburgh Award Changed My Life

The Duke of Edinburgh Awards Canada celebrates a great milestone today. For the last five decades, it has enriched the lives of Canadian youth from walks of life. It changed mine.

The program was started by His Royal Highness, The Prince Philips, with the hope of encouraging young people to be active and take responsibility of themselves and their communities.

I was involved in the program in the late 90's. It had me volunteer in the community, travel to Europe and Quebec and had me explore many hidden talents I had within me. It also took away my shyness and gave me the confidence to explore many initiatives and goals in my life.

I was awarded my Gold medal from the Right Honorable Adrianne Clarkson a decade ago.

The award recognizes that achievements of the efforts of young people between the ages of 14 - 25. It is broken in to three categories: bronze, silver and gold. They take anywhere between six months to a number of years to achieve. They are earned by satisfying and earning community service hours, being part of an adventurous journey, earning new skills and by being part of physical activities.

It has been 50 years since the award was started in Canada and I was privileged to have been part of its rich journey in the shaping of the lives of young Canadians. Today, it has more than 37,000 active participants.

Canada's premier youth award scheme originated from the Duke of Edinburgh's Award that started in 1956. Then, it was meant to help young boys with the intention of empowering them to join a movement of social change. Within a year, it was opened up to girls.

Canada followed suit and The Duke of Edinburgh scheme was imported to empower Canadian youth in 1963. Nova Scotia, Ontario and British Columbia became the first three provinces with the program. In the midst of the birth of Canada's Order of Canada in 1966 by then Prime Minister Lester B Pearson, the Duke of Edinburgh Awards became a national program and it essentially became the ultimate young person's challenge.

In recent years, it has reached out to "at risk youth, inner-city youth, young offenders, youth with disabilities as well as northern and aboriginal youth". Later on today, HRH The Prince Edward and The Right Honorable David Onley in the awarding of Gold awards to young people and will mark 50 years of great Canadian legacy.

Happy 50th - The Duke of Edinburgh's Canada Awards.