The winning team of the Youth Philanthropy Project at St. Mary’s High School hold up the cheque for their organization, Community Living Owen Sound and District, on Wednesday, May 29, 2019 in Owen Sound, Ont. From left, are Lily Bailey, Zoe LeBlanc, Fran Alpajaro, Makayla French, Siobhan Osborne, and Erin Den Tandt. Rob Gowan/The Owen Sound Sun Times/Postmedia Network
Rob Gowan / Rob Gowan/Sun Times
Community Living Owen Sound and District has given so much to Zoe LeBlanc’s family over the years after her younger sister Denae was born with Down syndrome.But on Wednesday, the Grade 9 St. Mary’s High School student and some of her Religion studies classmates were the ones who were giving back to the organization that assists people with developmental needs.LeBlanc and her team’s presentation on Community Living’s role in the community beat out four other teams for the grand prize of $5,000 in A Dragon’s Den-style competition known as the Youth Philanthropy Project. The funds will go to the organization to be used for the many services it provides.For LeBlanc, the win was extra special and part of their pitch to the panel of judges included a video detailing how Community Living has been there to help her now 13-year-old sister grow up and achieve so much already in her young life.Her team members – including Lily Bailey, Fran Alpajaro, Makayla French, Siobhan Osborne and Erin Den Tandt — lined up to hug her after the win was announced.
Zoe LeBlanc is congratulated by teammates after they won the Youth Philanthropy Project at St. Mary’s High School on Wednesday, May 29, 2019 in Owen Sound, Ont. The team won $5,000, which will go to Community Living Owen Sound and District. Team members included Lily Bailey, Zoe LeBlanc, Fran Alpajaro, Makayla French, Siobhan Osborne, and Erin Den Tandt. Rob Gowan/The Owen Sound Sun Times/Postmedia Network
Rob Gowan /
Rob Gowan/Sun Times
“I am just happy everyone can see the impact Community Living has on people,” LeBlanc said after the win. “I feel like that is an important factor when doing the presentation, because instead of just telling them, actually showing them how Community Living helps people is very important.”LeBlanc said another student approached her immediately after the presentation because she too has a family member with Down syndrome and she related to the experiences LeBlanc’s family has had.LeBlanc said Community Living has been there along the way so that Denae can achieve everything she wants to — from learning to talk, walk and run, to schooling, to eventually helping her find a home and get a job. Her sister had open heart surgery when she was a baby and Community Living was there to help.“They are helping her work her way up to achieve all her goals,” LeBlanc said. “We are confident they will have what we need so she can be successful.”Erin Den Tandt said LeBlanc’s personal story was part of the reason they chose Community Living as their organization, but the values they care about are very similar to the ones the organization promotes.“There was kind of just a connection there and also Zoe has a personal relation with them,” said Den Tandt. “It was kind of a clear choice by the end.”Den Tandt said she is really proud of how their presentation turned out and that they were able to come out on top.“It took a lot of work, it took a lot of time and a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff,” said Den Tandt. “All of the teams did a great job.”Just over 200 Grade 9 students from St. Mary’s took part in the project, which is led by Youth and Philanthropy Initiative Canada. An estimated 20,000 students across Canada take part each year, completing about 5,000 presentations.This year, about half a million dollars will be provided to organizations across the country through the project.At St. Mary’s, the Grade 9 Religion students from both the first and second semesters took part in the project, which saw them visit local organizations, learn about them and complete a presentation. The top groups were then chosen to present in Wednesday’s finale in front of their peers and a panel of judges. Among the other organizations the finalists did presentations on were the Canadian Mental Health Association Grey Bruce, Keystone Child, Youth and Family Services, Safe ‘N Sound Grey Bruce, and the Arden Language Centre.The members of the winning team agreed that it didn’t matter who would have won because the money would go to a deserving organization in the area, but they were so happy to be able to help out those at Community Living, who they have become very close with through the project.“No one deserves this more than all the people who work so hard there,” said Osborne. “They help so many people down there every day.”Bailey said she was surprised they had won after hearing all of the presentations by the other teams.“All the other teams did such a great job,” she said. “It was very shocking and I am so grateful that we won.”St. Mary’s acting vice-principal Mike Kirby, who emceed Wednesday’s event, said the underlying goal of the project was to get the students out into the community and learning about local service organizations, which it ultimately achieved.“The $5,000 was always the incentive, but having the experience of going into the community and learning about this charity first-hand was what it is about,” said Kirby. “Almost every group talked about that as what they really enjoyed, learned from and benefited from.”Kirby said they chose to make the initiative part of the Grade 9 program because it builds the value of learning about charity and social injustices as they start out high school.“It is a great way to start their understanding of what we do here in the school community,” he said.