When Joani Schoultz came to Canada from South Africa at 14 years old, she had to deal with a little more than the average teenage insecurities — the least of which was her very distinct accent.
Binge-watching the popular Canadian teen TV series Degrassi Junior High helped her get the “Canadian” accent down. But it wasn’t until she participated in the Teen Leadership Breakthrough program offered by Calgary-based charity Empowering Minds that Schoultz really found what she had lost in the move.
“With immigration, I found myself really quiet and toned down,” recalled Schoultz. “Empowering Minds taught me that it’s OK to have the bellowing voice and that I don’t need to quiet that down.”
The leadership program made such a big impact on Schoultz that she immediately began volunteering with the organization.
That was in 2011, and today she continues to spend her free time helping out other young people going through the immersive two-and-half-day program that is intended to inspire and teach teens how to reach their goals.
“We take students through an out-of-comfort-zone experience,” said McKenna Simpson, an Empowering Minds program manager and trainer who has worked alongside Schoultz.
Selina Novella graduated from the program last month. The 17-year-old has dyslexia and struggles with schoolwork on a daily basis.
She is no stranger to overcoming adversity.
“For the last three years, I’ve got the academic achievement award, which is the highest average,” said Novello, who is in Grade 12 at Foothills Academy.
It wasn’t until Novello participated in the program that she realized she was holding herself back from achieving other goals in her life.
“I help a lot of people, and I ask myself, ‘Why can’t I help myself? Why can’t I treat myself like I treat other people?’ Because I’m very hard on myself and not kind to myself at times,” Novello said.
She said the program helped her learn to love herself.
Novello has big plans for her future and feels the program has given her the confidence, skills and direction she needs to achieve them.
“I have big goals; they’re not small,” said Novello.
“I want to be a motivational speaker. I want to speak in front of a thousand people and help them be the best version of themselves.”