Barrie teen Zach Hofer had his dreams come true Sunday evening when he got to meet his idol, comedian Ellen DeGeneres, during her visit to Toronto.
Hofer is a mental health advocate and the founder of Zach Makes Tracks, an initiative that works to raise funds for and awareness around youth mental health across Canada.
To date, Hofer has raised over $126,000 for youth mental health.
According to his mother, Shelley Hofer, meeting DeGeneres was a dream come true for Zach.
“We’ve been watching Ellen for many, many years. He’s always admired how kind she is and how funny she is and how she lifts other people up, and so meeting her was definitely on his radar,” she said. “Meeting her was a dream come true, definitely,”
But according to Hofer, the real magic of the evening was watching her shy son come out of his shell and speak about something important to him — helping others.
“I think he’s realizing that there are other people out there that are making a difference and making changes and putting themselves out there, even though it may be hard for them, too, and so it was a beautiful experience all around,” she said.
According to Hofer, helping others was always something about which her son has felt passionately.
“Zach asked me for three years if he could run across Canada to help kids like Terry Fox did, and I said no,” she said. “But he was so persistent that he had to do this, and we finally kind of realized that there was something in him that’s driving him to do this so we finally said yes.”
Hofer said that two years ago, when her son was just 13, he decided he would run, bike and walk from Barrie to Ottawa.
“He wanted to raise money for youth mental health. He had seen me go through some issues and he had a few friends at school who were going through some mental health crises and he wanted to make it better for them,” she said.
After a long, 29-day journey, Hofer completed his first quest and arrived in Ottawa.
Hofer met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to ask that Canada’s leaders make youth mental health a priority.
According to Hofer, the original fundraising goal for Zach Makes Tracks was just $10,000, a number her son far surpassed.
“Our local hospital, the (Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre), did not have a dedicated youth inpatient program and so his original goal was to raise $10,000, and so far he’s raised $126,000, and they officially opened an eight-bed inpatient mental health unit, which means the kids in our area are no longer being sent to Toronto and Ottawa and Sudbury, away from their families, for treatment,” she said. “It’s amazing.”
And he’s not done yet. Now, Hofer has a new goal and is launching his next quest — Zach Makes Tracks 2.0.
“There are 2.2 million youth in Canada between the ages of 13 and 19, and Zach’s next quest is to give each and every one of those youths a voice by asking for 2.2 million pledges,” Hofer explained.
Zach Makes Tracks is asking all students across Canada between the ages of 13 and 19 to join him on May 7, in any activity of their choice, to collect pledges of any amount.
“It can be a five-kilometre (walk/run) or dancing for half an hour,” Hofer said. “It’s not only Zach doing it; he wants everyone to be a part of it.”
According to Hofer, every pledge counts.
“It doesn’t matter; it can be $1,” she said. “We’re trying to show that everybody can have something to give and so this is more of an action-based request.”
According to the Zach Makes Tracks website, donations raised will go directly to the Slaight Family Centre for Youth in Transition at CAMH in Toronto and will support community-based, front-line youth mental health services in each of Canada’s provinces and territories.
Hofer says Zach Makes Tracks 2.0 will work to eliminate and alleviate the roadblocks and problems that families and youth encounter when trying to seek mental health services.
Specifically, funds will be directed to programs and treatment services that improve access, continuity of care and patient outcomes.
More information about the initiative and how to pledge can be found on the Zach Makes Tracks website.