Youth initiatives for a diverse society

Every five years, Statistics Canada produces the Canadian Survey on Disability, a national survey of Canadians aged 15 and older whose everyday activities are limited as a result of a long-term health condition or health-related problems.

While the number of Canadians with developmental disabilities is less than 1%, the latest survey also shows that 13.7% of Canadians, nearly one in seven, live with a disability. Equality issues notwithstanding, it is vital for Canada’s economy to ensure that people with disabilities have the social support necessary to thrive in their communities.

A youthful organization

The Social Diversity for Children (SDC) Foundation is a registered charity dedicated to eliminating the stigma of disabilities. Joanna Zhao, an undergraduate student at The University of British Columbia, serves as the foundation’s executive director.

Joanna Zhao speaking at the 2017 SDC Summer Gala. | Photo courtesy of SDC

“I joined the organization because I loved their emphasis on empowering youth to empower children with disabilities,” says Zhao. She started as a volunteer in the Youth Team with SDC four years ago as a chief sponsorship officer. Working with others in her Youth Team, Zhao applied for grants for events and contacted local businesses for in-kind contributions. Since then, she has progressed to the role of youth director and then to executive director.

SDC is 95% run by youth volunteers. This reflects the organization’s goals of nurturing young leaders and promoting interaction and connection between children of all abilities.

“This is probably the reason that attracted me the most to [the Foundation] and why I continue to be so passionate about this organization,” says Zhao. “SDC truly believes that every youth has huge potential to create real change in this world, and [the organization is] prepared to provide the necessary toolboxes to do so.”

Youth volunteers are given leadership opportunities and responsibilities beyond what most of their peers are exposed to. Zhao manages staff members, spearheads the recruitment process and oversees all the charity’s day-to-day operations. She also mentors high school students who are new volunteers of SDC. Zhao encourages other youth to volunteer at SDC.

“Youth that take on leadership roles develop professionally and become confident risk-takers who will have an incredibly positive impact [on the youth] of the future,” says Zhao. “Not only do we train youth to empower children with disabilities, SDC youth volunteers empower the next generation to continue our work maybe even better than we do today.”

Diversity and training programs

Volunteer and participant at an SDC event. | Photo courtesy of SDC

Founded in 2010 in Richmond, SDC offers a range of programs for children with disabilities that include music therapy and art therapy. The music therapy program will recommence around September or October at two locations: the Renfrew Community Centre in Vancouver and the City Centre Community Centre in Richmond. The Foundation also hosts birthday parties for registered participants at their schools.

“Each day, our volunteers strive to learn more about the disabled community,” says Zhao. “We educate ourselves and the rest of the community on how we, as human beings, can learn to treat everyone with respect regardless of differences in abilities.”

SDC is also active internationally. The Foundation operates in other cities such as Seattle and Dubai. Every year, it organizes a trip for volunteers, called a Global Impact Delegation (GID), where it partners with overseas government bodies and organizations to improve social welfare policies affecting children with disabilities.

A provincial objective

One of the 10 B.C. government initiatives is entitled “Building a Better B.C. for People with Disabilities.” The aim is to work with disability and business communities to make B.C. a truly inclusive province by 2024. An identified area of need is to have a more inclusive government so that people with disabilities have a direct say in government policies. With training for young leaders across all abilities, there is hope that this need will be met sooner rather than later.

For more information on The Social Diversity for Children Foundation, visit www.socialdiversity.org.

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