At Shanty Bay Public School, the Grade 5 students were challenged to be change agents.
As part of the ‘Change Agent’ project, pupils were tasked to select an issue they were passionate about, to make a plan to help address that issue and, finally, to put that plan into action.
Twin 10-year-old sisters Madison and Mikayla McDermott decided to work together on their project.
“When we were trying to pick a topic, we were hearing a lot about fentanyl overdoses and how it was killing people,” said Madison. “We know a lot of families are affected by that and some people in our family have been impacted by drugs, so we chose youth mental health and addictions.”
Madison is writing a book for students in Grades 4-8 to help them stay drug- and alcohol-free. Mikayla is organizing a run to promote the idea that healthy pleasures such as running can help people stay on the straight and narrow.
“We’re hoping to get 500 people to the Oro-Medonte Kids Run,” said Mikayla of the May 5 run at Burl’s Creek Event Grounds. “Running is like a healthy pleasure and a way to cope with your feelings.”
Proceeds from both the run and the book will go to the Royal Victoria Hospital Child and Youth Mental Health Program, she said. “We want to raise lots of money for them and we want people to know there are lots of healthy pleasures,” said Mikayla. “I want to prevent my generation from the harm others have experienced.”
The girls’ late grandfather was an addictions medicine doctor and the family talks openly about drug abuse and addictions. Madison’s book will focus on one of the success stories from her grandfather’s practice.
“The book is about someone in the community and her addiction,” Madison explained. “She said the first step for her was identifying what she was feeling, so there will be a feelings chart and discussion points to engage students so when times are hard, they will have something they can refer to.”
Madison said writing the book was an eye-opener as she learned about the person’s journey through shame and recovery. “She now has 20 years of sobriety and she told me she no longer has guilt or shame,” said Madison.
The mature 10-year-old said the process reminded her about the pitfalls of addictions. “I learned that a lot of people start taking drugs or alcohol because they feel alone and scared and just want to fit in,” she said. “I hope the book and the message helps them feel like they’re not alone and there are ways to re-frame those thoughts.”
The as-yet untitled book is mostly complete. She is working with Heather Dekker, a Barrie artist who has given lessons to the twins, on illustrations for the book that she hopes becomes a staple in classrooms around Simcoe County and beyond.
Parents Jennifer and Neil are proud of the girls’ passion and the effort they’ve put into turning that into an action plan. Jennifer McDermott said the girls have made their pitches for support to the Oro District Lions Club, the Oro-Medonte Chamber of Commerce, Mayor Harry Hughes and others.
“My hope is that because they are learning so much about it that when times are tough in their life, they remember these discussions and remember that difficult times will pass,” she said. “It’s better to talk about feelings and to reach out for help during hard times.”
She also hopes this ambitious project is not a once-in-a-lifetime event. “I am hoping that this becomes a family value of reaching out to the community,” said Jennifer, conceding that not every project has to be so involved. “We believe in the idea of giving back.”
For now, the whole family is focused on this year’s project. They hope people will catch their passion and sign up – or donate – for the May run.
All participants under age 18 will receive a frozen yogurt gift certificate from Menchie’s. Those who sign up before April 1 will pay $25 to participate in the 2.5-kilometre event and $30 for the 5-kilometre competition. The price goes up $5 for each category after that date.
Each participant will receive a T-shirt, hot dog, drink and ice cream. Prizes will be awarded to the top three racers and there will also be a prize for the team with the best four runners. Highest individual, school, and corporate fundraisers will also receive a prize.
Up and Out, an Orillia sporting gear business, is generously donating Salomon trail shoes (valued at $150) to the top male and female finishers of the 2.5-km race. Canada's Wonderland has donated two single-day general admission tickets for the individual that raises the most for RVH's Child and Youth Mental Health Program.
And while many will be trying for a top time, participants are welcome to walk, jog or stroll the course with their young children. During the event, community organizations such as Kinark will have displays set up to help raise awareness and answer questions. Staff from the YMCA will lead a fun warmup to kick off the event.
For more information, to register or to make a donation, visit orokidsrun.com.