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SDSS student awarded for outstanding community leadership

'When you're hungry, you can't focus on school and then you get stressed about it' -- Johnson

It's not about what you can see; it’s about what you can’t see. The issues that face our youth today are often hidden; sometimes in plain sight. But the right person, in the right place and time, with the social acumen to notice, and the altruistic conviction to do something about it can make the difference.

Evan Johnson has been engaging in social projects since he first started school. His earliest endeavour was with one of his older brothers, selling aromatic Smencil Pencils in order to fund goats for overseas families to provide milk for making cheese.

For Johnson, it’s never been about filling time or bolstering a resume; it’s about recognizing a need in the community and acting on it, so that no one is left out or left behind. Now he is graduating high school, and has been recognized by the 2024 TD Scholarships for Community Leadership for the remarkable contributions he has made to his community over the years. 

His calm demeanour is the starting point from which this over-achiever has created a chapter at Stratford District Secondary School, Passion-to-Purpose projects, and even written a book for younger children.

The aim of is to break down the stigma of talking about mental health. A major concern for Johnson is the link between mental health and hunger, and the very real need to provide food for the well-being of his fellow students. “When you’re hungry, you can’t focus on school, and then you get stressed about it,” says Johnson. “People who are in a situation where that might be happening, don’t want to bring attention to it, because they think it might make them at outcast from their friends at school.”

In response, Johnson developed a program in which a food station is located in the Student Success Room, which is where students go for study help. Mindful that no one wants to feel watched or judged, while there, students can access the food that they need without drawing attention to themselves.

He also developed a Food for Thought start-up group to distribute take-home food kits, and Wellness Wednesdays, which includes meditative and cathartic activities like yoga and drumming to positively stimulate mental health. Through, Johnson has also organized school events, guest speakers and online forums.

All of these efforts have generated an invaluable ripple effect by enabling fellow students in need to succeed on their own paths, and by inspiring others to step up and consider what their own contributions could be.

Johnson credits his family for cultivating his conscientious mindset along with the gift of time management from which to incorporate it into his life. “My mom has always been a very organized person.” He shares. “She’s a school teacher, and she has embedded that mentality in me from a young age. My dad is also a very logical person. He’s an engineer. Having those two personalities combined as parents has really helped me get to this point, where I can lay things out in a structured schedule.”

Johnson also acknowledges the facilitation provided by Stratford District Secondary School, without which obstacles to implementing these projects would have been far more difficult to navigate. “With a lot of these programs, you need a staff advisor who can be contacted at the school directly. The nice thing about this school is that there are a lot of guidance counselors who are available to do that, but they also give you control and they won’t step in. They’re here to be the connection between you and the administration.”

It’s a wonderful example of a school encouraging a student’s aspirations, taking them seriously, and enabling them to flourish with the understanding that, “Without these programs, these kids couldn’t get the support they need.”

Bookending Johnson’s Stratford education is his own book called, “Dear Younger Me,” which is a collection of stories by high school students reflecting on their thoughts and fears from the past to let elementary students to know they’ll grow out of the fears they have, and can feel more confident in being themselves. This compendium of “advice to a younger self” is accompanied by artful illustrations created by the SDSS art club, and is dedicated “to anyone who has ever worried about anything…You are not alone! You are awesome just as you are! You are enough! We hope this book inspires you to see the positive side of situations. You've got this!”

And now, off to Carleton University in Ottawa to study aeronautical engineering in the fall, Johnson is not slowing down. In addition to setting up a plan for these programs at SDSS to continue helping high school students long after his graduation, he’s also researching government-based organizations to learn where he can continue to contribute at university, including starting up another chapter there. This is who Evan Johnson is. This is why the 2024 TD Scholarships for Community Leadership has selected this unique and exceptional young man: for the mark he’s making in the world beyond the marks he’s achieved in his classroom.