Shayda Swann

Simon Frasier University
Vancouver, BC Canada

Every year, students around the world take pause to observe Earth Day, whether it’s in the classroom or in their own free time.  However, it’s one thing to learn about methods of environmental preservation and another to take action towards legitimate change. For Shayda Swann, an alumnus of the Institute for Civic Leadership, Earth Day was an opportunity to become directly involved in a global effort to make positive changes in the world.

Participation in community service initiatives is nothing new to Shayda.  Since her participation in the ICL Summer Leadership Academy, she has pioneered a successful youth group to help children become active within their communities.  As Shayda says, “the main goal of the group is service and self discovery. There is such a negative social stigma around young people.  It’s often assumed that kids would never be interested in helping out their in communities, but I don’t believe that’s true – it’s especially never been true for me so why would it be the case for others?  Junior youth are so passionate about change. They have a really strong sense of justice and my group works to cultivate that. We have lessons about self-confidence, environmental awareness, patience, dedication, and lots of other things that make a great leader. They learn how to articulate their ideas in a clear and coherent way and currently they are working towards developing a group service project all on their own. “

It makes sense then for someone such as Shayda, who advocates for continual community involvement, to become active in social initiatives beyond the one she helps run.  This led her to becoming involved with her school’s Earth Day celebration activities.

Shayda, along with her fellow ICL alumnus, were introduced to Matt Hill, a noted television voice actor, social entrepreneur, and pioneer in the field of environmental awareness.  In 2006, Matt co-founded “Run for One Planet” – an epic endurance run circumventing Canada and the United States where the mission was simple – teach people to take small steps in taking better care of the environment. While running a marathon almost every day, Matt and his running partner, Stephanie Tait were able to lead a team of over 30 people across the continent, speaking to over 30,000 school children.  They made more than 200 presentations, giving media interviews almost daily, and ultimately raising over $120,000 for their “Legacy of Action for Kids.”

Continuing to this day, Matt hosts runs for students in order to pass the passion for environmental sustainability on to a new generation.   This passion brought Matt back to Shawnigan Lake, Canada where Shayda attends school.

“It was so great to see Matt again! I’ve obviously heard his story before, but it never fails to inspire me.  If I could be half as dedicated as Matt to my own service project, I know I’d be successful in starting something both long lasting and sustainable.  More than that though, it’s really cool to actually know someone world-renowned on a personal basis – someone who has made such a big impact on the world.  It’s different when you hear about someone on TV.  When you actually know the person and have the opportunity to work with him or her, it’s almost surreal.  It inspires me believe that my work is real too.  I also have the chance to actually ask someone like Matt for advice if I need it.  Who else can say that?”

Shayda was able to spend the day with Matt as he gave her and her classmates some useful tips in becoming more emotionally invested with environmental issues.  The experience culminated in a smaller scale of Matt’s “Run for One Planet” program with a run for the entire student body.

Shayda was quick to point out that the experience hit close to home for her. “I live in such a beautiful place. Every morning I get to see the lake and the mountains and it reminds me of how important it is that we protect it. It’s so simple to take steps towards being more environmentally aware and I think that its really good that I go to a school that will dedicate this much time to teaching us about how to care for the planet.”

Even though Shayda’s true community service passions are in helping youth fulfill their own potential, there was definitely a correlation between working on environmental issues with DGLA champion Matt Hill and working on her own project.  “The Dwight Global Leaders Academy showed me just how important it is to be inspired.  To find what you love and take others along for the ride.  That’s what Matt Hill does and that’s what I hope to do as well. It’s all about leadership. I got that from attending the academy. The skills I learned there really enhanced my self-confidence. Being there showed me that I could make a big difference if I harness my passions. It made me want to influence the next generation because I saw the potential that each person has within them – their own spark of genius.”