Positive space and GSAs= a much deserved youth award

(Note: Port Nelson United is currently renewing its Affirming process, and sent us this great example of the kind of public witness offered by ministries in the process. Your Affirming process can be a public witness too!)

Port Nelson youth award recipientsWhen the adjudication committee at Port Nelson United Church in Burlington, Ontario met last May to consider applications for the annual Youth Award, they knew the job would be challenging. Young people in their final year of high school from every segment of Halton Region had applied for the $1000 scholarship. The award honours leadership in promoting inclusion, with a special emphasis on the needs and concerns of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, and queer individuals. (Right: Award recipients Colleen and Tyler.)

The Port Nelson Church Council established the Youth Award in 2012 to reflect a strong core value in the congregation of being inclusive. When the senior minister, Michael Brooks, and his partner, Jay Poitras, decided to marry, they looked for a way to acknowledge their union. They inquired at local high schools about the need for an award to recognize the student who may not be the best athlete or scholar, but who has made a significant contribution in the area of being inclusive. The reply was that such opportunities didn’t currently exist. As a result, Michael and Jay invited those who wished to celebrate their wedding to contribute to a new scholarship. Over $10,000 was raised for the Port Nelson Youth Award.

Now in its fifth year, the award is widely publicized through high school guidance offices and ROCK (Reach Out Centre for Kids), a local coalition of mental health services for children and youth (http://rockonline.ca/).

Colleen Putzig, from Burlington Central High School in the Halton District School Board has shown leadership in inclusion since grade 9. Colleen is head of the school’s Gender Sexuality Alliance (GSA) and the Mental Health Awareness Team. The GSA initiated a dance for LGBTQ youth that was so successful the LGBTQ Pride Dance is now a Halton-wide event. Colleen has made school and board presentations to teachers and administrators about gender identity and the use of proper pronouns. This fall will find Colleen at Carleton University, majoring in Human Rights.

Tyler Wisner, a graduating student at St. Thomas Aquinas Secondary School in the Halton Catholic District School Board, started the Humans for Humanity group at the school. Tyler is also a member of Halton’s Youth Action Committee in the Positive Space Network, a role that included planning the 2016 Halton Pride event. On top of these commitments, Tyler is vice-president of the Student Council and volunteered in the federal election campaign. Tyler will be attending The University of Ottawa in September, majoring in Sociology.

Both Tyler and Colleen spoke to the Port Nelson congregation on June 5. The service is available here, and a description of the award here.