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Celebrating 20 years of connecting students to community + philanthropy

Victoria Foundation’s Vital Youth Program forges connections and youth leadership
Deristhi Govender and Chelsea Lee, Grade 10 students at St. Michaels University School, speak at the 2023 Vital Youth year-end event. Victoria Foundation photo

As the Victoria Foundation’s Vital Youth Program celebrates 20 years of connecting Greater Victoria youth to their community, students in 12 schools delivered a total of $33,000 in funding to 15 organizations across Southern Vancouver Island.

Yet the impact of the Vital Youth program is so much greater than the grants awarded.

Each year, the Foundation allocates each student group $3,000 to grant to local registered charities of their choice, in addition to an annual $500 grant also added to an endowment fund for each participating school, to help ensure a sustainable source of grant funds. Students use a variety of tools to research critical issues in their communities, including the Victoria Foundation’s Vital Signs Report, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls to Action. They conduct site visits and interviews with organizations before convening as a student group to decide which organizations they grant the funds to.

Nearly 700 students have participated in the Vital Youth program since 2003, awarding 347 grants to 153 organizations, for a total of $400,082.

Beyond dollars given, however, the program inspires the next generation of philanthropists and community leaders who will be instrumental in guiding our community in the future.

“For a long time, I connected philanthropy to wealth. In my mind a philanthropist was a rich person who donated their money to charity,” said Wren Kerslake, a 2019 Vital Youth participant from Victoria High School.

“It has been two years since I first became a part of Vital Youth and during this time have learned many lessons. This program has left me, and, I believe, all the students who participate, with a feeling of hope and intrigue – we have been given the knowledge that we are able to be a part of something we thought was out of our reach. I think that the powerful thing about giving once is that it makes you feel like you can do it again.”

Throughout the program’s 20-year history, youth have stepped forward as leaders, says Victoria Foundation CEO Sandra Richardson. “It is inspiring to see them engage with the organizations working to address various issues and see youth carry this leadership back to their schools, families and communities.”

Vital Youth is also a concrete way to empower youth to take action on causes that matter to them. Organizations funded for 2022/23 year ranged from the Broadmead Care Society and Compost Education Centre to the Aboriginal Coalition to End Homelessness and Victoria Youth Clinic Society.

“The program has allowed me to connect further with my community and really learn about the different ways in which Victoria is thriving, and the ways in which it is not,” said Christine Camaso, a three-year Vital Youth participant from Belmont Secondary School, who says the program helped her feel empowered and valued as a young person. “The many causes to care about within this city is overwhelming, but in the best way possible. I’ve learned about a number of diverse organizations working in this city to change it for the better and met many other like-minded youth along the way.”

The experience also informs future choices: “Being in this program, I now understand the importance of giving back to your community,” reflected Mack Edwards, a 2011 Vital Youth participant from Belmont High School. “And when I’m 75 I’ll still be giving. You can count on it.”

Click here to learn more about the Vital Youth program.

Help guide the community today – and tomorrow

One of the key tools students use in the program is Victoria’s Vital Signs Report, an annual snapshot of where the Capital Region is succeeding and where it’s facing challenges. The report is informed both by local statistics and by the annual Vital Signs Survey – open to everyone in our community to weigh with their experiences and perceptions. This year’s survey is open until June 2 and features both short and longer options – click here to have your say today!  

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