This summer, Markville Secondary School Grade 12 student Mabel Yang was one of a group of 16 students from across Canada who were selected for the Youth Ambassadors Program.

The three-week exchange is designed for a highly-interactive experience while visiting the United States through a range of workshops, meetings, site visits and home stays with American families. Program themes covering topics such as civic education, community service, youth leadership and social inclusion were used to build a variety of leadership skills.

And it doesn’t end once the young ambassadors return home. They are expected to work on a follow-up community-service project, considered an important component of the program, to build on a passion and desire to improve their communities.

The experience is “very educational,” said Yang. “We worked with a lot of professors and other alumni (at State University of New York at Plattsburgh). We got to attend lectures and were given a lot of resources that I feel will be beneficial when implementing my project.”

As president of the Markville Secondary School LICA (Low Income Community Aid) group, she and her crew work to improve the lives of individuals living in lower income brackets in any way possible. A recent initiative saw more than 1,300 children’s books collected and donated to help build youth literacy within communities where reading material is unaffordable and inaccessible.

As well, for the past 18 months, Yang has been lending a hand at the Fort York Food Bank in downtown Toronto.

Why volunteer?

“I feel it’s very important for my growth as an individual,” she said of volunteering. “And it’s really opened my eyes to a lot of issues, not only in the City of Toronto but in Markham.”

Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, Yang’s ambassadorial project will build on LICA.

“I hope to expand upon our previous accomplishments to forge greater connectivity between the youth of my community and the challenges faced by the individuals residing in those less wealthy areas,” she explained. “My primary objective is to create a culture of empathy by working alongside local, reputable organizations.

“I know my school is prolific in bright, driven individuals who would be willing to contribute their time and energy to learn more about and assist the less fortunate. My hope is that LICA will help to bridge the gap between a willingness to help and a tangible contribution.”

One lesson she learned throughout the Youth Ambassador experience is the importance of networking, not only with the other 15 student participants but with everyone she met throughout the trip.

“Within our workshops, there was an emphasis on networking,” she said. “I’ve never really considered myself to be social a person, but they’re really high on achieving your goal by building your network, something I really did while I was there.”

“The experience is humbling,” she adds. “There were so many opportunities for multifaceted growth.”