Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada

Creating Positive Change: StFX students awarded McKenna Centre for Leadership Project Grants

October 5th, 2021
StFX students, l-r, Ethan Draper, Kate Graham and Courtney Mckay are this year's Frank McKenna Centre for Leadership Project Grant recipients. The three students will be working this year to create positive change in the community, working on projects that address social justice education in the workforce, loneliness in older adults, and homelessness.

Three StFX students will be working this year to address existing problems in the community and impact positive change as they work on projects to address social justice education in the workforce, loneliness in older adults, and homelessness, as the 2021 recipients of the Frank McKenna Centre for Leadership Project Grants. 

Courtney Mckay, Kate Graham and Ethan Draper are this year’s recipients of the McKenna Centre grants that help students take action on an idea on how to improve the community and create positive change. Each grant supports a full-year project for the fall and winter semester with the amount of $4,500.

Part of the McKenna Centre’s mission is to empower prospective student leaders by assisting them in the development of projects and ideas. 

“Their projects are amazing and inspiring,” says McKenna Centre director Dr. Mathias Nilges.

Applicants had to submit a project proposal of around 1,000 words describing the project, the steps and activities it will involve, and its intended outcomes, as well as a detailed budget outlining how they will use the funds the grant provides. 

This year’s grant recipients and their projects:

Courtney Mckay

Courtney Mckay, a Schwartz School of Business student, will work on a project entitled, “Social Justice Education for the Workforce.”  

“For my leadership project, I will be developing a toolkit to help educate the workforce on social justice issues,” Ms. McKay says. “Over the last year I have come to understand the importance of academic research and the education it can provide individuals. However, I have also come to understand that most people within the workforce do not have time to read through academic papers to educate themselves and their employees.”

She says realizing this inspired her project idea as she now hopes to create a bridge between academic research and the workforce, creating accurate, accessible, and easily understood information for organizations to start understanding and advocating for social justice issues. 

“The crisis facing Missing and Murder Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) is the topic I will be building the first toolkit around. Indigenous women are facing an epidemic of violence, which includes alarming rates of domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking and more. My hope with this project is to increased awareness on an acute crisis spanning our entire country, produce a resource that organizations can use to educate themselves on the issue and how they can help address it. Additionally, aid in the fight for justice for MMIWG and their families.” 

Kate Graham

Kate Graham of Carleton Place, ON, a fourth year student in the BASc Health program, majoring in social determinants and health equity and minoring in biomedical sciences, will work on a project entitled “WellX: The Wellness Exchange.”

“Human beings are social by nature. Our well-being is dependent upon feeling connected to others. Unfortunately, as we become older, we tend to become more and more alone, which leaves us vulnerable to feelings of loneliness. Older adults are among those at highest risk of social isolation,” she says. 

Ms. Graham says the number one emerging issue facing seniors in Canada is the necessity of keeping older adults socially connected. Social isolation often leads to a lower quality of life and poor health outcomes such as cognitive decline, depression, and heart disease. 

Currently in Canada, one in four seniors lives with a mental health problem or illness such as depression, anxiety or dementia, she says. 

“WellX is an initiative that aims to foster a sense of value and connectedness between StFX students and seniors in the Antigonish area. Through this McKenna Leadership Project, StFX students and seniors in the community will be paired together based on shared interests, and they will get together on a weekly or bi-weekly basis for an hour or so. What they will do is entirely up to them – chat over coffee at the Tall and Small, go for a hike at Keppoch or visit the Antigonish Farmer’s Market – the main idea is to foster inter-generational friendships. The intended outcome of the program is ultimately to create friendships that would otherwise not exist. By the end of the year, my hope is for both seniors and students alike to have created some fun memories with their partner and ideally reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation, which will in turn benefit the overall health of our community.”

Says Kate, “The McKenna Leadership Project Grant has provided me with an incredible opportunity to give back to the community that has given me so much.”

Ethan Draper

Ethan Draper, a third year student from Ottawa, ON taking an honours BA in Applied Forensic Psychology, will work on a project called, “No Place Like Home.”

“Homelessness, as we've recently seen in Halifax this summer, is not the foreign concept in Nova Scotia that many like to believe it is. Many Canadians struggle with it, and some marginalized groups are disproportionately at risk. I am producing a podcast called No Place Like Home where I am interviewing people from across the country to look at various facets of homelessness, like mental health, 2SLBGTQ+ rights, and Canada's colonial history,” he says. “I'm hoping that this project will help debunk the idea that people who are homeless choose to be or are just lazy, and instead bring light to some of the many factors that may contribute to homelessness. 

“On top of the podcast, I'm working with Welcome Housing Support Services (WHSS) to give 'starter kits' to some of their clientele. WHSS is based out of HRM and they provide support to people in various stages of housing instability. This can include greatly subsidized apartments, but as I noticed when I moved into my first apartment, filling it with basics like cleaning supplies and kitchen products can be quite expensive. These kits involve necessities such as toilet paper, cooking supplies, and toiletries for those settling into new living situations to reduce some of that financial strain and to make their new house feel more like home.”

Says Ethan, “To me, being a recipient of this grant is an invaluable opportunity that has allowed me to launch a project that I wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise. I’ve met so many incredible people who are doing such important work, and I’ve just learnt so much throughout all of my podcast interviews. Without the McKenna Leadership grant, I don’t know if I would’ve been able to find the funds or support to make this project what it deserves to be. I believe that homelessness is a manifestation of so many other intersecting issues in our society and being a recipient of this grant has allowed me to explore with experts what some contributing factors are and what needs to change.”

McKenna _Centre

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