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Inspiring Kids to be Involved in School

by Archives March 31, 2009

You might remember Gabriel Bran Lopez as the dude who was in the top four in Canada’s Next Great Prime Minister. If you do not remember Lopez, you should.
Youth Fusion, Lopez’s latest project has been up and running since last September. In the short time it’s been operating, Lopez and his seven interns have already noticed a change.
At 25, Lopez has his own NGO that runs via the help of the Social Development Society of Ville-Marie (SDSVM) and Concordia University. His idea to create Youth Fusion started when he visited Cree nations. There he noticed the alarming drop-out rates from students in high schools, pushing him to decide to take action.
While some students set out to finish their BA and then get a job and patiently wait to be 55, Lopez set out to find a way to reduce drop-out rates in Quebec’s high schools. As this year is Youth Fusion’s first year, Lopez focused on two high schools: James Lyng on the Anglophone side and Pierre-Dupuis (rated 474 on 474) on the Francophone one.
Youth Fusion is basically university students getting high school students involved in activities the high school students chose. “Every activity was decided by them,” he said. Giving decisional power to high school students is indeed a very good move into giving them a voice.
I asked Lopez about the difference between the French school and the English one. After all, James Lyng got five interns doing 15 hours a week and Pierre-Dupuis only got two. “We gave what we were asked,” Lopez answers at ease. “We don’t discriminate between schools. Pierre-Dupuis wanted two interns,” he said. And Youth Fusion provided them.
When Lopez first advertized his need for interns, he received “tons of CV.” But his needs and what the school wanted was clear. He was looking for “community involvement, students who could act as coordinators, who had experience working with youth, energy, passion, for them to be role models.” Lopez is very proud of the project, which, still in its first year, has already proven a success.
At James Lyng, Youth Fusion started a student council, a newspaper, the green team, recreation and the young entrepreneurs’ team, interns supervising each project are respectively Evan Sheres, Bonnie Zehavi, Kyle Verboomen, Andrea LeRoyer and Jonathan Berke. At Pierre-Dupuis, its workshops on music and sciences done respectively by Adam O’Callaghan and Rosemarie D’Cruz. Lopez said all projects are gathering “positive responses.”
Last Wednesday, the interns at James Lyng showed up with good news. Seventy-five students joined the green team (on a total of 300) and eight went on a rock-climbing trip during the week. A girl, the first, joined the young entrepreneur division. Berke is pretty excited about it and already assigned her to the custom-made t-shirts. The student council is drafting a constitution and soon after, elections will be held, which is a big thing for intern Sheres. The newspaper’s first edition is soon going to presses, the issue will focus on first jobs and how to get them. While everyone shares congratulatory words and smiles, Lopez’s office phone rings.
He sent out the official press release on March 24, the person on the phone asks for a radio interview. Lopez notes down the hour and time. When he lets his team know a round of clapping can be heard. The group is very tightly knit and it’s fun to watch them revel in that phone call. I ask if they’ve seen Lopez’s Metro article. They didn’t. Lopez was part of the “Leaders de demain” series. After being asked, he gets out copies of the newspaper. LeRoyer and Verboomen keep copies, and I’m glad I’m there to witness Lopez being awesome.
Soon, the round calls are over. Lopez recalls that he needs emails from everyone, but apart from that everything is going smoothly. He wishes a good week to everyone and gives them his new cell-phone, “use it for anything.”
I ask him about that last line in the Metro article “municipal elections?” Lopez stays non-committal and answers “my main priority is getting Youth Fusion settled.” Next year, the internship will last the whole year, and will expand to areas in the Cree Nation. Lopez hopes he will be able to have seven to 20 interns.
Of course, Youth Fusion could not have accomplished anything it did this year without the help of SDSVM and yours truly, Concordia University. For next year though, Lopez is hoping on a subsidy from the provincial government.
Long-term, Lopez sees Youth Fusion as serving the whole province and even others too.
Before I leave, I ask him if there’s anything else he thinks we might need to know. He considers this for a moment. “What’s work is that it’s student to student. It’s about teaching what’s out there and that they have the capacity to do it.” Maybe he didn’t win Canada’s Next Great Prime Minister, but sincerely who cares? Continue on having kick-ass projects like this one. Don’t change the world, just make it better.

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