Speak when you’re not ready

I did 11 years ago, and it changed everything.

Eleven years ago as a high school student at a church in Brampton, I stood up in front of hundreds of people (each time, 5 times to be exact) and gave a presentation.

I had recently arrived home from a 1-week “exposure trip” to the Dominican Republic, where I got to experience life in a developing country, living outside of the all-inclusive resorts and close to the poverty the rest of the country experiences.

Before leaving, I casually was told that I would present when I got back, with no specifics — and when I wasn’t sure that I was ready, the date presented itself only a couple weeks later.

The trip impacted me significantly.
I wanted to do something, to take action.
Eventually, I knew I would start something to make a difference — but not yet. Not less than a month after returning, and not as a grade 10 high school student.

But, the opportunity presented itself. The chance to speak in front of thousands of community members, parishioners at the church of all ages and backgrounds, and actually ask them for money (not easy in any setting) for a brand new cause (even more challenging).

The day before my speech, I was told to come up with a name for my organization — reminded that I had to have a name if I was to ask for donations after my presentation, to help the youth back in the Dominican Republic.

The name that was created that day:
ACCESS — Well at the time, A.C.C.E.S.S. which was an acronym for:

“Allowing Children a Chance at Education with School Supplies”

And so it began, my series of 5 presentations: 5 pm on the Saturday, then 9 am, 10:30 am, and 12:30 pm on Sunday. I stood up at the front with a screen in the background, showing still photos I took on the trip to tell the story.

Dominican children with sugar cane.

The people. Their challenges. The political situation. The social-economic scenario they found themselves in. The years of slavery. Sugar cane. The divisions between Haitians and Dominicans.

And the youth — the young people who approached us on the trip, sharing their personal goals and dreams:

To go to school, to learn to speak english, to become employed in their own country and help their families and community.

Students weren’t even allowed into the schools without a uniform or shoes, to start. One of many injustices I saw and thought… I could do something about this!

Back to Canada in my local community — did I think I was ready to take major action, when I was asked to present? Not really.

Then, during that weekend, as a high school student who had just written a speech and named a non-profit organization, it was clear. We received the support from the community that I needed to push me forward and confirm that yes, I’m ready to make a difference right now.

A push that raised over $8,000 in 24 hours, for an organization that had existed for just as long.

And so, ACCESS Charity began.
You can read my detailed story of it here.
Today, it’s evolved into ACCESS innovation.
Supporting the next generation youth who are inspired to make a difference.

Thank you to everyone who has supported me and ACCESS over these 11 years!

Major throwback to ACCESS at an event in 2008.