REGINA - The awards and honours are piling up for a high-achieving student from Miller Comprehensive Catholic High School in Regina who has a passion for social activism.
Sophia Young, 18, received the TD Scholarship for Community Leadership worth $70,000 over four years at a ceremony in Toronto last week.
“It’s really cool and life-changing in a lot of ways, said Young in speaking to SASKTODAY.ca. “I just feel really excited and fortunate that TD was willing to give it to me because more than 2600 applications were made… it will definitely make a difference for my family and I.”
She is one of 20 young Canadians to receive the scholarship. According to a news release about the TD Scholarships for Community Leadership program: "This year's students have been recognized for their outstanding achievements and contribution such as: creating student workshops to attract more girls into science, technology, engineering and mathematics; championing fare-free transit in local communities; and helping to raise money for scholarship programs for refugee students from Uganda."
The reference in the news release to "championing fare-free transit" directly refers to Sophia's ongoing efforts in Regina to make transit free for all youth -- one of several community-building projects she has been involved in.
Young's plan is to use the scholarship money to go to the University of Alberta to study civil and environmental engineering, because “I believe engineering is a way to community build, and it’s a way that I can bring about social innovation that could go and help improve communities. And I just really want that when people look at the story of what I’ve done and this award, that at the end of the day they feel inspired to make changes in their communities despite the troubles and the adversity they face.”
The ceremony in Toronto happened on the same day Sophia was also being recognized as one of the 2023 Junior Citizens of the Year by Lieutenant Governor Russ Mirasty. Her mother Dr. Stephanie Young accepted that award at Government House on her behalf.
“I find that really exciting - it wasn’t something I expected,” Sophia said of that Jr. Citizen honour. She later found out it was her school’s guidance counsellor who had nominated her for that recognition.
“It was just really heartwarming to see, though, these teachers — they believe in their students, how they believed in me they saw this inherent worth that I have. And I think that belief that others have in me is a feeling that I will carry forward, even when things get hard.”
These are just the latest in a series of honours Young has received. Those include the YWCA Young Woman of Distinction Award, the 2023 Terry Fox Humanitarian Award, eight Dawson Ellert Leadership Awards, and 22 academic awards.
Sophia said she has a “strong passion and motivation for school, it’s something I love doing and I love caring for other people.” She feels she is able to strike a good work-life balance of caring for other people while doing her schoolwork.
Among the projects she has been involved with have included the Permaculture Club at Miller Catholic high school. She ended up becoming chair of the group, which she noted happened during COVID-19 when the school was facing a high suicide rate.
She pointed to the importance at that time of “having the ability to connect with other people and socially-distance garden at our school garden, and be able to grow food for our cafeteria, and cooking classes and community fridges.”
Later on she joined as the youth representative on the community advisory group for the Energy and Sustainability Framework.
That led to her presenting to Regina City Council on the issue of transit in the city, and getting involved in the Regina Energy Transition, helping direct a 200-person lobbying campaign to get fare free transit for those under age 13.
That effort was successful as the city did make transit free for youth 13 and under last year. That’s something Sophia said she is proud of, “because now 36,000 children have access to free public transit throughout our community.”
Young also volunteers with the Regina Open Door Society Helping immigrants coming to the area -- something she is passionate about as her parents were both immigrants themselves from Colombia and China -- and is involved with the David Suzuki Foundation as a junior project manager. She also has art on display at the Regina Public Library and at the Mackenzie Art Gallery.
Sophia explains that her motivation for getting so involved comes from a belief that “I can’t say that I’m doing great and well if I see that my community is suffering.” In order to be well and to thrive, she feels the need to make sure her community is also doing well because “we’re all interconnected.”
Sophia said that was a prime motivator for her to get involved with all these groups — because when you uplift other people you uplift everyone.
“I believe that being involved in my community is very important for my psyche, because I can’t be well if my community is not well. Like, I don’t see there is any way that I can thrive. So I think I will continue to participate in sustainability movements, to continue gardening and growing food, and also volunteering in my community, helping newcomers, and hopefully doing different kinds of lobbying and forms of activism.”