Grace Van De Vechte, left, and Julianne Ford with the Every Child Matters stickers they sold to raise funds to address water challenges in Indigenous communities. Photo courtesy Marianna Knights

Students make mark as social justice activists

By  Angelica Vecchiato, Youth Speak News
  • November 17, 2021

In the wake of eye-catching headlines announcing the discovery of unmarked burial sites at former residential schools, Catholics around the country were deeply troubled by the revelations.

Reconciliation efforts have gathered momentum at institutional and grassroots levels in the months since. In Collingwood, Ont., Catholic high school students Julianne Ford and Grace Van De Vechte are paving the way for dialogue and healing in their community.

“Although we can’t undo the past, we can work together towards reconciliation to live in peace. We need to amplify the voices that need to be heard, so we can educate our peers,” said Ford, a Grade 11 student at Our Lady of the Bay Catholic High School. 

Leading up to National Truth and Reconciliation Day on Sept. 30, the social justice enthusiasts sold Every Child Matters stickers within their school community.

“Wearing a sticker is something everybody could do to show their support. Students could put them on their phones and backpacks, spreading the message of reconciliation,” said Ford.

At $2 each, Ford and Van de Vechte raised $775 for Water First, a Creemore, Ont.-based NGO working to address local water challenges with Indigenous communities.

The two friends said they were initially “shocked” by the unprecedented support of their fundraiser. Van de Vecte, also a Grade 11 student, said she was happy their fundraiser made a sizable local impact.

“I wanted to do bigger picture things like mission trips, but because of COVID I couldn’t really do anything,” she said. “Then, over the summer, I was searching for a charity when I found Water First. Since it’s very local to us and they provide tips for fundraising, we liked it a lot and thought it could work.”

Sam Murray, the development manager for Water First, was delighted with Ford and Van de Vechte’s contribution.

“We were definitely filled with excitement and joy,” said Murray. “It is great seeing youth being passionate about social justice and putting that into action through fundraising. The donation is going to be impactful in helping with our work.”

The girls plan on continuing their fundraising and awareness-building work. They are in the process of establishing a Be The Change team at their school, shifting their focus to environmental conservation. Van de Vechte said the club will “welcome” anybody.

“Environmental conservation goes hand in hand with our first fundraising initiative because we’re focusing on staying healthy and our local community,” she said. “We’re really open to suggestions.”

Marianna Knights, a teacher at Our Lady of the Bay and a self-described “sounding board” for Van De Vechte and Ford, sees potential in the entrepreneurial pair.

“Grace and Julianne are passionate leaders. They recognize they have God-given gifts to make a change in the world — to make the world a better place, even one act at a time,” said Knights. “In fact, I see them using their experience to lead and guide others in bigger initiatives. It is important that they have an ‘it’s not as easy as it seems’ understanding, however, that doesn’t mean it’s not possible.”

Ford is excited for the future ventures, believing that the key to success lies in education.

“You can’t change everybody’s mind, but everybody’s opinion matters. When everyone is educated, we can work together. Make your voice heard and don’t be afraid to speak out,” said the aspiring lawyer.

(Vecchiato is a Grade 12 student at Loretto Abbey Catholic Secondary School in Toronto.)

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