Kate Andrews teen a Youth Ambassador

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Alison Lee encourages other Palliser students to apply in spring

A Grade 12 student from Kate Andrews High School in Coaldale had the summer adventure of a lifetime, spending three weeks in New York and Washington, D.C. learning about leadership, activism and U.S. culture.

Alison Lee was one of 17 young Canadians selected to participate in the Youth Ambassadors Program with Canada organized by the Center for the Study of Canada at State University of New York Plattsburgh. The program is also supported by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, United States Department of State, the U.S. Embassy Ottawa and Fulbright Canada.

From July 20 through Aug. 11, she visited the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa, the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C., the 9/11 Memorial and Museum and other sites in New York City,  the White House and other sites along the National Mall.

“It was probably the best three weeks of my life,” Lee says. “The White House was really cool. It was so cool to see it up close. There was a public protest there that day. We got to see all the different things in New York. The 9/11 Museum in New York City had just opened six weeks earlier.”

About 10 days of the trip was spent with a homestay family in Plattsburgh, N.Y.

“There were just the nicest people,” she says. “It was nice to have that home comfort feel when you’re away for home.”

For Lee, this was a first trip outside Canada, and she was amazed by not only the historic sites, but the cultural similarities and differences.

“I definitely found there were a lot of similarities, but when we are different, we are very different.”

Program encourages community activism

The students had an opportunity to present on topics that they are passionate about, and as part of the program, they have to commit to completing a public service project within the next year.

Lee’s project is to continue her work raising money and awareness for child victims of sexual abuse. This Christmas, she’ll launch her third Shed Some Light campaign. Donors can purchase a light to be displayed on a Christmas tree in Coaldale, with money going to the Little Warriors Foundation Be Brave Ranch, which opened in September. So far, Lee’s efforts have raised $25,000. Her goal is to raise $100,000 to support young abuse victims.

She said all the Youth Ambassadors she met were passionate about a cause and wanting to make a difference. The program promotes not only Canada-U.S. understanding, but encourages a next generation of leaders.

“While you’re there, you’ll learn so much about leadership,” she says. “A big part of the application process is you name something you want to change. The trip allows you to explore that passion.”

The application process took considerable effort. It included a 10-page essay and pages of paperwork, which she pulled together just days before the April deadline. She says all the students she met applied at the last minute, in part because the program is relatively new and organizers were late getting word out. Lee found out about the program through Palliser Regional Schools’ Facebook page.

The work isn’t over. She has three more essays due over the course of the year, as she works toward completing her community service project. She can’t divulge details of how her fundraising effort with grow or change as a result of what she learned as a Youth Ambassador, but she promises it’s going to be big.

A few of this year’s Youth Ambassador alumni will be selected to return to Ottawa next summer to meet with new participants, something Lee would love to do.

Program participants included teachers

She says other students of Palliser, aged 15 to 17, should apply to be a Youth Ambassador when the opportunity comes up. The program also has spaces for teachers.

“It was an amazing experience and so worth it in the end,” Lee says, adding she made friends across Canada. “You get so close with the people you’re with. In that three weeks together you go from not knowing someone at all to feeling like you’ve known them forever. . . You’ll build lifelong friendships.”

For more information on the program, visit its website.