The ConocoPhillips Youth of Distinction Awards, a program of Youth Central, recognize deserving youth ages 12-18 for the ways they choose to live, focusing on selfless service and overcoming personal challenges. This year, Youth Central was proud to receive 275 nominations, a new record for the program. All of the nominations were incredible, and the selection committee had a tough time narrowing it down to the amazing finalists.

The nine award categories are Advocacy, Arts and Culture, Environmentalism (Group and Individual), Leadership, Peer Support, Perseverance, Sportsmanship and Volunteerism.

View the video playlist featuring the finalists below:

YODA 2014 award finalists


Leadership Sponsored by Talisman Energy
The Leadership Award is given to a youth who has chosen to take a leadership role in bringing positive change to their school or community. This youth will have demonstrated responsibility and drive, as well as initiative in starting new projects and programs.


Nicole M’Carthy not only speaks of change, she initiates it and she never misses an opportunity to be part of a process that will lead to positive change. A visit to her native country of Ghana left an impression and led her to question why disparities in quality of life exist among countries and people. She came to the realization that education was a vehicle that could not only free the mind but also empower people and improve their quality of life. Nicole has made education the cornerstone of her activism both locally and abroad.
Amanda Calleberg dedicates much of her time and talents to leading others through her involvement in various communities. Some of her roles include: organizing charitable events, acting/producing an educational distracted driving video, instructing dance and leading a group of her peers to represent her school in an inter-scholastic courtroom tournament. Throughout her many commitments, Amanda also successfully advocates fairness, inclusion and support for people with mental disabilities.
Stephen Cho steps beyond the realm of a high school student and into the shoes of someone at a well-rounded level years above his age. After initiating a position for himself as a researcher at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre, Stephan was published as a co-author in the British Journal of Cancer. He is currently working with a medical oncologist, trying to stimulate better clinical care for cancer patients. Stephen competes at a national debate level is considered one of the best debaters in Alberta. Also plays first violin for the Calgary Youth Orchestra, under the wing of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra.


Peer Support Sponsored by RBC
Peer Support Award is given to a youth who has demonstrated selflessness in regards to bringing about positive change for their peers. This youth will have demonstrated compassion and kindness, as well as the qualities anyone could ask for in a best friend at the moment you need them the most.

When Mitchell Mason was younger he was labelled by the school system, misunderstood by his family, and ridiculed for his different thoughts and ideas. While these negative messages had a lasting effect on him, it never stopped him from being who he wanted to be. Mitchell always makes the effort to support those in conflict by spreading positive energy. He encourages his peers who are facing challenges to instead focus on themselves, uncovering and further developing their personal strengths.
Some of the many words that describe Chelsea Gschwind are caring, thoughtful, supportive, approachable and compassionate. She is a true friend to many of her peers and someone hat they can all go to for support and empathy. Chelsea has supported several of her peers through difficult experiences, including battles with illness, severe depression and even the death of a parent. By offering a comforting and positive energy, Chelsea makes a lasting impact on everyone around her.
As an immigrant from India, Asawari Bapat was motivated by her family’s experience and journey to Canada. Moving to a new country is not an easy transition but Asawari found a foothold in Canadian high school culture by participating in the Calgary Bridge Foundation’s mentorship program. Through this program, she was able to find a peer group to share her experiences with and overcome barriers such as language and new cultural norms. Now, Asawari pays it back as a peer mentor herself, who welcomes and supports other immigrant students as they settle into their new schools.


Environmentalism – Individual Sponsored by ConocoPhillips Canada
The Environmentalism Individual Award is given to a youth who is committed to improving the environment and reducing environmental degradation.

Cristina Acevedo has always lived an environmentally conscious lifestyle; however, this year she decided that working on her own was not enough. Working with and inspiring others to live a greener lifestyle, Cristina has dedicated herself to many projects including: reducing her schools littering, removing invasive plant species, painting a mural at a local community centre and working to collect and recycle plastic bottles to construct a greenhouse that will become a community garden.
Anayat Sidhu is very passionate about saving the environment, always looking for new ways to make a change. She recycles, composts, and encourages her friends, family, school and her temple to become involved. She organizes environmental cleanups and even went to India to help clean up a local community.
Isaac Bignell’s keen interest in environmental issues has inspired him to pursue his passion through various club projects. He has applied his vast wealth of knowledge and strong leadership skills in creating, directing and implementing several projects at his school. He spearheaded the school grounds naturalization project, as well as an indoor aquaponic system.


Volunteerism Sponsored by the Rotary Club of Calgary East
The Volunteerism Award is given to a youth who is truly selfless and dedicated to helping others. Though not necessarily in a leadership role, this youth has shown commitment to bettering their community by volunteering their time to a cause they are passionate about.

Taylor Lambie became motivated to volunteer early in life by the Girl Guides of Canada. In junior high the death of a peer inspired her to begin volunteering with the Kristin Kares Klub. For the past 3 years she has committed her time buying gifts for the less fortunate in Calgary. During the devastating floods in June of 2013, Taylor personally baked and hand delivered treats for the local emergency responders in Calgary as well as city workers in High River. Her passion reached beyond her community when she requested to travel to Costa Rica with Habitat for Humanity for her upcoming 16th birthday.
When Sukhneer Kaur first came to Canada from India she felt isolated, not knowing anyone. Her teachers at Discovering Choices encouraged her to participate in Youth Council and become involved in, the ‘In The Lead’ program. Through participating in these activities, Sukhneer began making connections with others in her school. She has learned to pull from the strengths that she already possesses and has recognized how great it feels to help others in her community.
Aaron Lin has been extremely active, both at school and out in the community. He is the vice chair of the Students’ Council Charities Committee, and has helped to organize the Terry Fox Run, school BBQ’s and a junior basketball tournament. This past summer he was a Youth Ambassador for Canadian Blood Services, and he travelled to the Dominican Republic as a National Youth Ambassador in support of Youth Vision International. He is president and founder of the World Vision Calgary Youth Committee.


The Advocacy Award is given to a youth who has committed time and energy lending their voice to a cause and bringing about change.

As a newcomer, Nicolas Herrera experienced the generosity of people who without knowing him, made it possible for him to have a great and unforgettable First Christmas in Canada. At 14, he not only delivers presents to immigrant families, but he also brings them messages of hope and optimism. He talks about the challenges new immigrants face and tells the supported families every year how important it is to keep a positive attitude as they initiate their journey in their new country.
A cancer diagnoses changes your life and your goals. After being diagnosed with an aggressive brain cancer at the age of 15, Kayla Schewechose to stay positive and give back. While her journey has been difficult, Kayla says that sharing her story and advocating for her cause is healing. She leads by example, continuously helping others even through her toughest days. Kayla’s experiences and presentations inspire others to be strong and live their life to the fullest because you never know what might come from around the corner.
At 9 years old, Ethan Drage decided to show support to a classmate by shaving his head to raise money for Epilepsy. His school raised $11,000 and in turn The Epilepsy Association of Calgary created the Bare Naked Noggin Head Shave. This annual fundraiser has raised over $150,000 over the past 6 years. Ethan speaks at schools and events to raise awareness about Epilepsy and has become a wonderful role model.


Environmentalism – Group Sponsored by TD
The Environmentalism Group Award is given to a group of youth who are committed to improving the environment and reducing environmental degradation.

Too often, detrimental environmental changes go unnoticed because they do not directly affect one’s life. At Dr. E.P. Scarlett, about 30 students gather on a weekly basis to organize activities and events that bring awareness to environmental issues. Within the Scarlett Student for Change group, the common thread for every member is the desire to make positive impacts and a willingness to take action.
The Sir Winston Churchill Earth Club demonstrates their commitment to the environment through educating others, implementing programs and participating in many activities. They have created a new composting program as well as a lights out program at their school as well as organized various recycling and clean up initiatives.
Got a Penny for Clean Water is a group of four young students who have been working since 2011 to help bring clean water and sanitation to a village in Western Africa. They reached their goal of raising $25,000 in October of 2012. The funds helped to establish a well in Western Kenya that provides clean water to 1800 villagers. They now have clean water, latrines, hand washing stations, agriculture, and less erosion of their soil.


Arts and Culture Sponsored by Calgary Arts Development Authority and TELUS
The Arts and Culture Award is given to a youth who demonstrates a passion for arts and culture, and shows their commitment to helping others understand the importance of arts in the community.

Ayush Ghosh is passionate about classical music and is making a difference in the community. He was declared a child prodigy at the age of 6 for his ability with the Indian Classical string instrument the Sitar. Ayush believes classical music unites people and it is pure enough for listeners to have peace within.
Not only is Sarah Mackenzie an incredible musician, but she is an encouraging and positive leader. She raises awareness to all those who surround her and is committed to helping others understand the importance of arts and culture.
Suffering from a stroke at birth which resulted in limited mobility in her right hand as well as Cerebral Palsy has not held back Xena Hall. Becoming a writer was always one of her goals, especially after others said she may not walk or read, let alone write. Currently writing her third novel, she has been writing for four years and has proved many people wrong.


The Sportsmanship Award is given to a youth who is passionate about athletics and demonstrates sportsman-like qualities such as mentorship, coaching, planning and enthusiasm.

Maggie Zemp is heavily involved with athletic teams at Crescent Heights as a valuable member of the volleyball, basketball, and track-and-field teams. She is also an avid swimmer. Maggie is an outstanding athlete, but brings a humble attitude to the gym every day. She has been voted-in as a captain on both the volleyball and basketball teams as a result of her strong leadership skills, and her ability to create positive interactions with each and every one of her teammates. Maggie has a special talent for bringing out the best in her teammates, and in everyone that she comes in contact with.
By being a positive mentor, Aliya Karmali uses her athletic skills to empower her teammates. She constantly compliments and praises her teammates while thinking of ways to give constructive feedback. As a swimming mentor within her club and within the school, Aliya works diligently to push her swimmers to improve and to succeed. Despite being injured in the past, she does not get discouraged. Instead Aliya waits to recover, then comes back stronger and more determined than previously before.
Harrison Hart is an elite volleyball player who currently plays for the top U16 club team in Calgary which placed 2nd in Canada last year. Fair and kind, Harrison is the type of athlete that everyone remembers. At 6’3”, he is called the “Gentle Giant” by his teachers and coaches as he truly doesn’t have a mean bone in him. You can always find him in the gym refereeing younger teams in volleyball or basketball or on the court himself playing or helping younger kids improve their game!


The Perseverance Award is given to a youth who has proven that personal initiative and determination can overcome any form of adversity. This youth will have demonstrated courage, and tenacity when dealing with the enormous obstacles that an average person would normally retreat from.

Jazmine Findell is an 18 year old student with Discovering Choices, who epitomizes strength, resilience, and perseverance. Her story begins in grade thee, when her parents divorced. Since her mother was chronically depressed, addicted to prescription medication and abusive, their relationship was strained. Later, when her mother attempted to re-establish a connection with Jazmine, tragedy struck as her mother passed away from an accident during her honeymoon. While the toll on Jazmine has been immense, she finds a way to overcome her challenges.
After a family outing, Luke Coles became seriously ill. At the time, doctors were unable to clearly diagnose what was happening to Luke. He and his family searched for answers, travelling as far as Boston Children’s Hospital for treatment. It was eventually suspected that food poisoning had impacted the pathways in Luke’s brain, causing him to lose control of his legs. The outcome was a one-year road to recovery. After nearly 300 days, Luke was able to keep food down. He turned his focus on rehabilitating the movement of his legs. The recovery process was a challenge, but Luke’s positivity and determination was strong. He has taken steps to return to the athletic lifestyle he loves, including volunteering as a goalie coach for a youth hockey team. Luke is a true inspiration to everyone around him.
After her mother was caught in a real-estate scam, Delilah Brown’s family became homeless when she was just 11 years old. Her mother worked hard to raise her and her siblings, but they ended up living at Inn From the Cold for 3 months. Even at her young age she realised that she had no idea where she was going to sleep that night, or what she was going to eat for her next meal. Delilah had to grow up fast. Moving a lot when she was young, and changing schools often, Delilah struggled to set down roots. Throughout everything her mother inspired her to stay positive and persevere.