Mohsin Khan took a look at his community and decided he could make it better. Having grown up in the predominantly at-risk, underdeveloped community of Regent Park in Toronto, in their final year of high school he and a few friends reflected on the challenges they had faced growing up in Regent Park, and thought about how they could give back to their community.
“We thought that maybe the usual, where you do a little volunteering, doesn’t really impact people; but if you build in a capacity where they get to call the shots, they get to take risks, maybe now they’re able to see the other side of the world where you know they have the opportunities, they have the resources for change,” Mohsin said.
The result was Lead2Peace, a youth-led initiative for at-risk youth. Their aim is to develop school-aged children into socially conscious leaders who make positive impacts in the community. Lead2Peace sets itself apart by allowing the youth involved to structure their own community involvement, providing the guidance and resources but allowing the youth to decide how to use it. The organization has now been running for four years.
“We find that with structured programs you get sort of an end product, but the journey there – it’s too set. People vary, kids vary, they should be able to grow on their own,” Mohsin said. “I think that’s the only way you can build leaders; leaders are not taught by the book, they’re taught by experience.”
The organization runs programs in both elementary and high schools in the Regent Park area. The Young Leaders program goes into elementary schools and brings students into their community to examine and address different social issues. In its first year, Lead2Peace helped Grade 6 students at Sprucecourt Public School build a peace-sign-shaped community garden that supplies organic produce for the school lunch program as well as the community.
Lead2Peace also runs a program geared towards high school students that helps them orchestrate a fundraising event to benefit a charity, and an in-school martial arts program that provides no-cost training and discipline to youth.
Mohsin, the executive director, had been nominated by Youth In Motion as one of the Top 20 Under 20 in 2011 for his work with Lead2Peace.
Now a busy 22-year-old Mohsin juggles his volunteering with Lead2Peace with his engineering studies at Ryerson University, where he is in his fourth year. He balances his not-for-profit work with his engineering work, doing motivational speaking, coming up with concepts for other not-for-profits and sitting in on board meetings, while at other times working as an engineering specialist in the Arctic or Northern British Columbia, and of course, keeping his grades up.
He describes his experiences with Lead2Peace as humbling, and that the greatest reward is when people approach him and let him know how the projects are impacting the community.
“You realize where you’ve gone in life and how it comes in full circle; you grew up in Regent Park, you’re surrounded by all of this violence and poverty and you come out to be in something where you are able to give back,” Mohsin said. “You’re helping the new generation, making sure they’ll follow the same route.”
- Schools wanting to get involved with Lead2Peace visit www.lead2peace.org and contact Mohsin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Explore the not-for-profits active in your community and find out how you can participate.
- Want to start your own not-for-profit in your community? Get out there and figure out what your community needs. From there, Mohsin advises, “Figure out your vision, surround yourself with a good team and [reach out] to resources to bring the idea to life.”