For this week’s Charitable Choices we caught up with BridgeTO Youth. They are a Toronto non-profit organization whose main mission is to see youth expand their excellence post high school and onward. We spoke with Sammer Haq, Founder of BridgeTO Youth, to find out more about the program.
Describe your charity/non-profit in a few sentences.
BridgeTO Youth is a not-for-profit organization that is driven to help youth in under-served and underrepresented communities achieve success beyond high school. We provide support to youth in grade 11, 12 and first year of their post-secondary studies, by providing free tutoring, outreach and mentoring services as well as access to exclusive events. Some added benefits include covering university application fees, monthly groceries for our youth and their families, gifting a laptop to each participant upon high school graduation and access to exclusive scholarship opportunities. Our unique program aims to inspire, prepare, and propel students in their pursuit of post-secondary studies and beyond.
What problem does it aim to solve?
BridgeTO Youth aims to bridge the gap to success for youth in underserved areas to reach their full potential. It is statistically proven that youth in low income, underserved and underrepresented communities predict lower levels of school achievement, increased socio-emotional problems, and lower test scores on intelligence and cognitive functioning. Fortunately, a growing body of evidence has linked structured out-of-school programs like those delivered at BridgeTO Youth with positive outcomes including improved academic achievement and school engagement and increases their self-confidence, which is associated with the pursuit of post-secondary education and lower dropout rates. It is also associated with higher self-esteem, and lower rates of depression; better peer relations; reduced problem behaviours (e.g. delinquency and substance abuse); and improved leadership and increased civic engagement. Such programs help youth develop social and practical skills as well as relationships with peers and adults in a safe environment, and help them build competence. The research suggests that another important benefit of structured out-of-school programs is that they reduce the amount of unsupervised time and provide safe and constructive environments that protect youth during times when youth crime is at its peak.
When did you start/join it?
I started BridgeTO Youth unofficially in Fall of 2018, when I volunteered to tutor a few students in grade 11 and 12 math from my local community. Very quickly word got out about my unique style of teaching and my group of students grew from 4 to 50 in a matter of weeks. We became a community overnight, where the students were sharing their passions, dreams and concerns. I changed my schedule at my 9-5 job with RBC to arrive to teach the students right after school at 3:30PM and after a year of developing a strong relationship with each of the youth, I registered as a not-for-profit organization called BridgeTO Youth in August 2019.
What made you want to get involved?
As someone who grew up in the same communities as the youth BridgeTO supports, I realized the difference it makes when a young person is supported and has access to resources that help or bridge them to graduating high school and post-secondary learning. Interestingly enough, running a not-for-profit organization was never a goal of mine. However, all that changed when I was unable to find those who looked like me or came from the same communities as me as I pursued my post-secondary education and career; it became increasingly evident that success was reliant on access to opportunities and academic support which varied depending on your postal code.
BridgeTO Youth was formed simply because I desired to see the vibrant and exceptional youth from the communities I was raised in at the forefront of every industry and conversation. Regardless of where you are from, what hardships you have encountered, I have always seen people for who they could become, opposed to who they currently are.
What was the situation like when you started?
When BridgeTO Youth first began, the youth in the community were disengaged and unmotivated to pursue post-secondary education, particularly in STEM. More often than not, my time was spent persuading and convincing the youth to attend tutoring sessions as they felt a post-secondary education and career was not possible for them.
How has it changed since?
By building a strong community of volunteers and passionate supporters, I can clearly see the difference we are making in our youth’s lives. I see a passion for learning and giving back to the community. The youth speak about their dreams with confidence and are able to communicate their experiences with pride.
At the end of the 2019/2020 school year, we saw 19 of our youth graduate high school and are currently pursuing post-secondary education. We awarded $16,000 in scholarships, delivered over 200 grocery baskets and attended/hosted over 20 events. In 2020/2021, by switching to a remote environment, we have been able to stretch our reach and support youth from across the GTA. We can’t wait to share our results from this year as well – follow us on social media as we share our success stories!
What more needs to be done?
There’s so much more that needs to be done! Due to the Covid-19 pandemic and switching over to remote services, BridgeTO Youth has had the privilege of supporting youth across the GTA, in similar underserved communities. It’s clear that our message resonates with the youth and their families, but even more increasingly clear that our services are needed. We need to come together as a community and support the youth in low income neighbourhoods. Help us to provide even more services and opportunities by volunteering and donating to our cause.
How can our readers help?
As we continue to grow our organization, we need the support of our community to raise awareness of our cause and provide more opportunities for the youth we support. Volunteer, donate and follow us on our social media to see all the work we are doing and the impact we are making.
Do you have any events coming up?
Yes, we do! We have partnered with Amazon Canada Future Engineer program to provide an inspiring new learning experience that explores the ways music, computer science, and entrepreneurship can be tools to advance racial equity.
On May 29th, youth participants are going to analyze the music of a famous musical artist, Pharrell Williams, to explore how music, entrepreneurship, and computer science can be used as pathways to promote racial equity. At the end of the day, they will code and remix Pharrell’s music to create your own 30 second song that will be judged on the quality of your code, music, and social justice themes.
Students will be immersed in a full day event with talks from inspirational speakers, taught about code, music and entrepreneurship by our fantastic volunteers and present their final song to a panel of judges.
Finally, they will be able to submit their song into a national competition to have the chance to win $5000 college scholarships and a call with Pharrell. And the winning team of the BridgeTO Hacks event will walk away with an iPad Pro with an Apple Pencil and Case!
Where can we follow you?
PAY IT FORWARD: What is an awesome local charity that you love?
I think an organization that’s doing some great grassroots work is SacredHand Canada. They have been amazing partners with BridgeTO Youth by providing quality food and fresh fruit baskets month over month to our youth and their families. SacredHand Canada is a free, essential service that helps nourish people through school programs, seniors’ centres, shelters, food banks, and regional food hubs. In 10 years, SacredHand Canada has provided over 140 million pounds of healthy food.