THE POWER OF YOUTH
OUTSTANDING TEENS ARE ON THE MOVE
Across the country, teenagers are making contributions to their communities. Maclean’s reporters talked to 10 among the many young citizens whose achievements make a positive difference in the life of Canada:
A DREAM IN GOLD
The game was a cliff-hanger. With less than seven minutes left in the basketball final at Barcelona, the Canadian women held only a one-point lead over their U.S. opponents, the defending champions. But the underdogs rallied to win 35-26, clinching Canada’s first gold medal in the sport. And for 17-year-old Jennifer Krempien, a guard on that winning wheelchair basketball team at September’s 1992 Paralympic Games, it was a victory that she says she will never forget. “Being on the podium with the gold medal around my neck, looking at the flag and hearing the national anthem will always stick out in my mind,” she says. “There was a lot of pride being Canadian at that moment and a real sense of accomplishment.”
For Krempien, the youngest player on the 12-member team, playing in the Paralympics fulfilled a dream. Paralysed from the waist down at age 5 after she fell off a picnic table and developed a blood clot in her spine, she started playing basketball, floor hockey and volleyball in an elementary school recreation program. But basketball was her favorite, and after nine years of practice and competition, she was named to the national team in June.
Now a first-year student at the University of Alberta, Krempien lives in the Edmonton suburb of St. Albert, and aims to pursue a career in sports psychology. She plays twice a week with the Edmonton Aurora Lights and regularly takes to the court with the Renegades in the Canadian Wheelchair Basketball League. And to help raise awareness, Krempien has spoken at clubs and schools throughout Alberta. Her advice to teens? “Believe in yourself and in what you can do. Even if people are telling you, ‘No, no, you can’t do that,’ just try it anyway. Even if you fail, you are still going to learn.”
A CRUSADE FOR HARMONY
In October, Lennett Anderson, a Grade 11 student at Charles P. Allen High School in Bedford, N.S., was stunned when he saw leaflets headlined “K.K.K. White Power Lives!” around his school. Anderson, 17, one of about 30 black youths among nearly 1,200 students, says that the leaflets, peppered with anti-black slurs, created tensions in the school. As president of Allen’s Cultural Awareness Youth Group, an organization that meets weekly to discuss racial issues and promote ethnic harmony, Anderson initiated an assembly where students vented their feelings—and reached a consensus that “we need to get along.”
A firm believer that dialogue and education can foster understanding, Anderson has also pushed successfully for changes in the school’s curriculum. After classroom study of To Kill a Mockingbird—Harper Lee’s acclaimed 1960 novel dealing with racism in the American South, which includes such offensive terms as
“nigger”—he complained to viceprincipal Julianne Coolen. “When you are the only black student in a class and that word is constantly mentioned,” says Anderson, “you feel very uncomfortable.” At a series of student-teacher meetings arranged by Coolen, the English department decided to require students who study the book to participate in a two-hour workshop at the Black Cultural Centre in nearby Dartmouth. And a Grade 12 course in black literature will be introduced in the fall.
Coolen says that Anderson is clearly a positive role model—“a good student and very helpful in promoting harmony.” For Anderson, an active church member, sea cadet and a former member of the Nova Scotia board of the Children’s Wish Foundation, a charity that gives terminally ill youngsters a chance to realize their dreams, the motivation is simple. “We are all equal,” he says, “and should treat each other accordingly.”
From the very beginning, it was a Canadian success story—one etched in platinum. At 7, she was performing in public. By 10, she had produced her first single. Just four years later, Ottawa pop star Alanis, who uses only her first name professionally, signed a contract with MCA Records. Now, a poised and seasoned 18-year-old with two chart-busting albums, a 1991 Juno Award as Canada’s most promising female vocalist, a cluster of videos and countless public appearances behind her, she is Canada’s hottest teen music star. Alanis, who still lives at home with her parents in Ottawa’s Hunt Club district, acknowledges that her success has brought “a certain amount of pressure that goes along with being in a position where peopie look up to you and watch every move you make.” But she says that she tries hard to maintain old friendships, answer her own mail and “remain true” to herself. The singer, whose latest album, Now is the Time, has sold over 50,000 copies since its release in October, adds, “You have to find a balance.”
That balance will be tested further when Alanis enters the U.S. market in the near future. “Our whole game plan was to make her successful in her home territory,” says New York Citybased MCA senior vice-president John Alexander. “The attack for 1993 is America and the rest of the world.” A dancer and actress as well as a performer of the stylish, high-energy pop music that she co-writes, Alanis has already made videos in settings as far afield as Italy and California, as well as a made-for-television movie to be aired on the Fox network later this year. And now, ready to take on a wider audience, she is considering moving to the United States. “Sometimes you have to move yourself and it’s unfortunate that it's to another country,” she says. “But I’ll still be a Canadian—for sure.”
A FIGHT AGAINST APATHY
Early in her teens, Kirsten Jones learned that apathy is a common trap confronting her age group. At Regina’s Roman Catholic Archbishop M.C. O’Neill High School, she says that she found widespread acceptance of “the status quo.” Teenagers, Jones says, often lack the confidence to shake free of their dependence on adults and to get a grip on their own fives. Jones’s own confidence began to grow when, as a Grade 10 student in 1990, she was named by her school
principal, Bert Yakichuk, to cochair an international student leadership conference. She ran a committee “to get the student body involved.” By the time the conference convened two years later, in September, 1992, Jones found that the process had “boosted my idea of myself taking control.” And many others among more than 1,000 students from 22 countries at the week-long event, says Jones, also realized that teenagers “can make a difference” in a world run by adults.
The conference not only provided guidance on self-improvement, says Jones, but the foreign exchange students, whose travel was sponsored by Rotary Club International, helped the hosts to understand that “our world certainly is no longer Regina, or Saskatchewan or even Canada, but the entire world.”
The confidence that she gained encouraged Jones, now 17, to seek and win the presidency of her school’s student council. She has helped in such
projects as raising funds for a native prairie grasslands preserve, while also practising piano, singing in a youth choir and playing basketball. She is considering future studies in journalism, although “ideally, I would like a skill to help me participate in the Third World, maybe education or nursing.” Whatever her choice, Jones now clings to a firm conviction: “You have to take care of your own future.”
FRIEND OF THE EARTH
Leba Rubinoff acknowledges that she loves meetings. And the energetic 16-year-old has plenty of opportunity to engage in her favorite pastime. A member of the Vancouver-based national steering committee of the Environmental Youth Alliance (EYA), a Canada-wide network of 10,000 young activists that promotes environmental, social and development issues, the Grade 11 pupil says that she “is not your typical student—I don’t come home at 3:30 in the afternoon, have a snack and do my homework.” Instead, many evenings and weekends she is at the EYA’S Kitsilano headquarters, assisting in organization and policy planning and helping to initiate awareness campaigns on such concerns as endangered species, indigenous people and ozone depletion. “We try to encourage people to take on issues in their own communities,” says Rubinoff. “We fink students in different regions who are working on similar issues and try to give them any resources or skills that they need.” For Rubinoff, the ultimate objective is nothing less than “creating a whole generation and a whole global community that can really effect change.” She is also active in the National Youth Circle, a group that is trying to promote communication among like-minded youth organizations across the country. And last fall, she was one of three Canadians to travel on the Earth Train, the first phase of a 10-year international project in which youth leaders from 16 countries crossed the United States by rail, stopping along the way to hold workshops on how to organize youth groups. They also lobbied UN ambassadors in New York. “There is a tendency to underestimate the power and the energy of youth,” says Rubinoff. “But we really do have the ability to organize ourselves and to take action on our convictions.”
For as long as fiddler Ashley Maclsaac can remember, the Celtic music and dance of his native Cape Breton have been as much a part of his life in the tiny Nova Scotia village of Creignish as the salt air that blows off St. Georges Bay. “I was exposed to them from the time I was born,” says the 17-year-old musician. “Even before I was bom, I was probably dancing in the womb.” A step-dance student at 6, Maclsaac began violin lessons two years later and quickly established himself as a performer at local dances, folk festivals and ceilidhs, Cape Breton hoedowns. But his career took a dramatic turn in August after he played at a square dance in South West Mar garee, 80 km west of Sydney. He received a telephone call that put him on stage in Manhattan.
The caller was JoAnne Akalaitis, artistic director of New York City’s Joseph Papp Public Theatre, who had heard Maclsaac play at Margaree while she was staying at her nearby summer home.
She invited him to perform in her production of Georg Biichner’s dark drama Woyzeck, to music by her ex-husband, renowned composer Philip Glass. “I didn’t know much about JoAnne or who this Philip Glass fellow was,” recalls Maclsaac. But Maclsaac flew to New York in late October to meet the director. “JoAnne’s idea was that Woyzeck has quite a folk element to it,” he says.
“And she could see where Cape Breton fiddle music and dancing sort of exemplified the mood of the townspeople in the play.” Maclsaac taught cast members to step dance and the play opened a month’s run on Dec. 6 to critical acclaim, including praise from one critic for Maclsaac’s “breathless hoof-andfiddle display.”
Now, Maclsaac is finishing Grade 12 studies while juggling a schedule of concert appearances and workshops across North America. He released his first album, Close to the Floor, in May.
But the down-to-earth Cape Bretoner says that, although he plans to continue performing, he is not counting on a musical career and will study business or languages after high school. “I don’t know that it is always going to be the way that it is now,” he says of his success. “Who knows? I could have a couple of fingers cut off or something in 10 years’ time and I’d be up the creek.”
Gordon Mayer knows firsthand the sting of racial discrimination. “Acceptance by others is a problem facing aboriginal youth,” says the 19-year-old Swampy Cree, who moved to the small central Manitoban community of The Pas more than two years ago from Anola, east of Winnipeg. “When I first moved up here, I could see the problems that kids were getting into and I could see myself slowly leaning that way because I had nothing to do in my spare time,” he recalls. “So I decided to get involved.” Now a youth delegate on the board of directors of The Pas Friendship Centre, the Grade 12 student devotes much of his spare time to helping others.
A member of the centre’s program committee, which considers community initiatives, he also volunteers his time as a piano and vocal teacher. As well, he is a peer counsellor, helping young people to cope with their problems. And in the coming months he plans to travel to area schools to talk to students about such subjects as self-esteem and motivation. “Sometimes,” he says, “they feel more comfortable talking to someone their own age.”
Mayer is also the only teenage representative on the community’s 15-member youth justice committee, which attempts to help young offenders. The committee considers the merits of individual cases and often recom-
47% OF TEENS SAY THEY HAVE DONE VOLUNTEER WORK IN THE PAST TWO YEARS, WHILE 43 PER CENT HAVE HELPED RAISE MONEY FOR CHARITY. PRAIRIE TEENS ARE THE MOST INVOLVED IN EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITIES.
mends that those who have run afoul of the law perform community service as punishment. “It basically gives youth a second chance at life,” he says. “Instead of getting a record, they have a chance to prove themselves worthy.” Besides his studies and his volunteer work, Mayer holds down two part-time jobs—one in a clothing store, the other with Native Child and Family Services. There, he works with youth from 8 to 17. “I take kids out for a good time to talk to them and keep them out of trouble,” he explains. “I show them that they are felt welcome by somebody.” He adds: “When some kids face prejudice, they just can’t handle it— they get mad. I think people should talk more about prejudice instead of just standing there doing nothing and being part of the problem rather than the solution.”
BREAKING THE ICE
Michelle Fauteux’s blue eyes glint with an edge as keen as the blades on her skates as she recalls the challenge that she confronted two years ago. She was 13 then, completing her first year at John Rennie High School in the Montreal suburb of Pointe Claire, and wanted to try out for the Renegades, the school’s hockey team. “They told me I couldn’t, just because I was a girl,” recalls the five-foot, fiveinch, 120-lb. youngster. “I was hurt and I was mad and I was insulted—so I decided that I had better do something about it.”
Stung by the rebuff and supported by her parents, Fauteux launched a campaign to persuade the Greater Montreal Athletic Association (GMAA) to change the rules that allowed only boys to participate in the hockey program at 56 Montreal-area high schools. Her effort was initially rejected by the authorities, but Fauteux refused to give up. She wrote letters, granted dozens of media interviews and insisted on practising—unofficially—with the Renegades. Gradually, she won over John Rennie’s coaches, then the school’s principal and, finally, a majority of the members of the ruling athletic association itself. Early this January, the GMAA not only granted Fauteux’s request but also decided to integrate other sports, allowing girls to play competitive ice hockey and tackle football, and opening up previously all-female sports like field hockey to the boys.
Shortly after the decision, Fauteux, now a 15-year-old honors student, reaped her reward, becoming the first female to play in a Montreal-area highschool game. Blonde ponytail flying from beneath her helmet, she patrolled right wing for the Renegades and bagged four assists in a 10-1 rout of the team from Royal West Academy. Although she has still not managed to crack the starting lineup, she nevertheless enjoys being a member of the team. “I did not really do it for the hockey anyway,” says Fauteux, “because I have to admit that I’m not the most amazing player around. But the rules weren’t fair. Maybe all the other girls who will now get a chance to play in games they love will thank me someday.”
For Dwayne Smith it was a case of being in the wrong place at the right time. A 15-year-old boy scout with the 47th St. Mark’s Company in Vancouver, Smith travelled to Seoul in August, 1991, for the 17 th World Jamboree being held in Mount Sorak National Park on the east coast of South Korea. But on his second evening in the capital, before setting out for the Jamboree site, Smith fell down some hotel stairs, breaking his ankle. Taken by his scout master to a nearby hospital, the teenager witnessed a horrific scene. As he awaited treatment, an ambulance crew rushed in a two-year-old girl, Shi-Won Hong, who had been playing in her backyard with her five-
year-old sister, Jin-Ah, when a car crashed through the fence, striking them both. Jin-Ah’s left leg was badly crushed, but her young sister was even more seriously injured. “It was really eerie,” Smith recalls. “There was a lot of blood and Shi-Won had bandaged stumps. I found out later that a bag at the foot of her bed contained her legs.”
Along with Canadian physicians Ian Sutherland and Murray Trusler, scouting officials who had accompanied him to the hospital, Smith helped to mobilize the 360-member Canadian contingent attending the Jamboree to raise money for the girls. “He was just so overwhelmed by what he saw in the hospital that he felt that something ought to be done to help these children,” says deputy contingent leader John Gemmill, a Vancouver lawyer. “Once he started to talk about it, the rest of the kids were so shocked that they decided to help.” With the assistance of other scouts at the 130-nation gathering, the Canadians raised more than $22,000 to assist the Koreans.
In July, 1992, the two girls flew to Montreal where they were treated for five months at the Shriners’ Hospital. They returned home in December. Shi-Won, whose legs had been severed above the knee, is now able to walk with
new prosthetic limbs, although she will have to return to Canada regularly to have them refitted as she grows. Jin-Ah, who suffered permanent nerve damage, was fitted with a leg brace. But Smith, now 16, remains modest about his contribution. “I definitely helped, but it was a big group effort,” he says. “‘Most of my role was being the person who broke his ankle.”
A PROMISING FUTURE
He was alone, spoke little English, had never been out of the country before, and his North American destination was half a world away. But when Wei Yu left his native Shanghai three years ago at 16, he met the challenges facing him with the kind of determination and energy that were later to mark a brilliant academic career. Yu adjusted quickly to life—and studies—in his new home, earning a remarkable 99.3-per-cent average in his final year at Ottawa’s Glebe Collegiate Institute. Maris Neimanis, a teacher of enriched physics, calculus and computer studies who taught the promising scholar, says: “Wei Yu has the capability of making some sort of lasting contribution in the scientific field in the future.” Adds Neimanis, who has two master’s degrees as well as 30 years' teaching experience: “I’ve never met anyone quite like him. He’s a real marvel.”
Now a 19-year-old first-year computer engineering student at Ontario’s University of Waterloo, Yu shrugs off his classroom achievements. “I think my biggest accomplishment was earning a place on the Canadian national physics Olympiad team,” he says. “We travelled to Finland last summer and it was a very good experience.” And he points out that being a top student is not always what it is cracked up to be. “Socializing with others is definitely more difficult,” he says. “Not because people envy you, but because they think you’re somehow different.”
A devotee of classical music by Brahms, Chopin and Schubert and English-language nonfiction, Yu sometimes cannot help thinking about the homeland that he left behind. “People in China have a lot more to worry about than we do,” he says. “It’s a lot easier to enjoy life here.” He is also concerned that he is losing fluency in his native Shanghai dialect. “I have become North Americanized,” he admits. “But I miss my own culture.” Still, he is hopeful that his future—one that may involve graduate studies and research—will include visits to China to see his relatives. Confidently predicting that his prospects will be “bright,” Yu adds that optimism is a prerequisite for life itself. “Without it, you can’t do much of anything at all.”