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Ainsley Jeffery is a high school student passionate about education, engagement and equality. She is the founder of Being Our Future which is an organization which aims to engage youth in politics and social issues with the goal of positive social change in their communities. She is also a member of Plan Canada and London Youth Advisory Council (LYAC). We got to sit down with her to discuss mental health, burnout, coping and the value of being engaged in your community.
Describe yourself in three words.
- Passionate; when I find something I care about I care about it with my whole heart, it stays with me.
- Ambitious, I have lots of drive to be successful
- Empathetic; feelings are something I value and relationships with others are important. I try to keep people happy and comfortable.
What are you passionate about?
I would say my main two passions are youth engagement in politics and gender equality. I have other passions but they are my primary interests. I find I branch out but ultimately everything comes back to those two topics.
You are also passionate about mental health, what piqued your interest in this topic?
Being a student and being involved in extracurricular and community projects I have experienced burnout and I’ve seen my peers experience this as well. In any environment you go to there will be people experiencing mental health challenges and personal concerns, I don’t want to dismiss that, I want to create a welcoming environment for everyone.
I’m also interested in mental health because everyone has mental health and needs to take care of it, you need to know how you are feeling and how your emotions are reflecting on the environment you’re in. No matter who you are you need to take care of your mental health.
What do you do to reduce mental health stigma?
I think it’s important to talk about it often, not just on Mental Health Monday or Bell Let’s Talk Day. It’s important to talk about it during stressful times of year such as midterms. I check in with the people around me to see if they need extra support. I ask how they are feeling, if they need anything and I generally just start open conversations.
Last year I carried a bag of post it notes with encouraging messages and passed them around at school. There were two of the same messages on each post it, so people could keep one and give the other to a friend or loved one who could use a bit of positivity. It was really great because people would post themselves opening up the card on social media, so the massage was spread that much further.
Earlier in the interview you mentioned that you’ve experienced burnout what did that look like for you? How did you recover?
I found through my roughest patch of burnout I was so consumed by the negative energy, and therefore bringing down other aspects of my life such as my relationships. I was not motivated to work on anything, no matter how passionate I was for the cause.
I recovered by taking a step back. I realized I did so much and I can’t do it all. I focused on what's important to me. I made sure I was doing my homework, eating and sleeping. I spent time prioritizing what I needed to do and scheduling my time. I try focusing on the current moment and how I’m feeling.
How did you get involved in the LYAC? What made you want to get involved?
I had a friend who I knew from being on Kate Young’s youth council. He ran the year before and he encouraged me to run. He told me he really loved the experience and I asked around and people said it was an amazing experience so I decided to run the next year.
People gave me tips on how to run an election, it was a good experience because it taught me how the system works. It was awesome to connect with other youth running, we got to meet and talk. Now that I am elected there are weekly meetings to attend with the other elected candidates. It’s the highlight of my week. It’s so nice to have the council together.
Each council/candidate usually has a project they work on. What have you done since you joined?
We were very involved with the municipal election that just happened. We looked at the three key issues facing youth this election. They were transit, parks and recreation and mental health and addictions. We broke up into subcommittees; I was on the mental health and addictions subcommittee.
Each subcommittee advocated to municipal candidates, we organized an online debate with mayoral candidates which was very informative and a good learning experience. I also interviewed Ed Holder (the current mayor) for a podcast. I asked him 12 questions that were all related to youth interests and concerns.
What is Being Our Future and why did you start it?
I started it in January of 2018 because there were three major upcoming elections by the time I turn 18. I realized so many people didn’t know much about what’s going on so the purpose of Being Our Future is to engage them and help them learn what’s going on. I want to help inspire other youth and help them learn their “why”.
On the website there is an opportunity page with awards, scholarships, activism and political opportunities. I have a World Charger Weekly section which is my favourite part, I connect and talk to youth change makers about what they’re doing. I find this motivates me because I can reflect on all of the amazing people who already care. I also have a blog section where I write about things I am passionate about, sometimes people write for the blog.
Since it’s still so new there are so many paths it could go and I’m still exploring the possibilities. It’s still in the planning stages, it’s something I’m constantly thinking about.
How can people get involved with Being Out Future? /p>
One of the easiest ways to be involved is to guest write for the blog. I think any voice is worth sharing, and if anyone is interested in sharing an experience, opinion, or advice, I am always open to amplifying the youth voice. As well, they can find their own opportunities and share their own story through the World Changer Weekly section!
You are in a lot of situations with powerful/influential adults. How do you deal with anxiety in new situations?
I went to a conference, Power of the Purse, which is a conference for women leaders, I got a sponsored ticket through RBC. This conference was full of forty year old people who are successful in their field. My first reaction was “Oh my god I don’t want to be here, there is no one I can relate to. They have finished their schooling and they are set. They don’t need advice to get into the workforce, they are already there.” During networking time I realized there is always something to relate to no matter the age gap. You probably have similar passions, experiences, etc. There are things you can talk about, not every older person will look down on you.
If you are anxious I would say know you’re supposed to be there, take up that space. It doesn’t matter that you don’t know everything, they don’t know everything either and you might teach them something, just like you might learn something from them. It doesn’t have to be a one way street. You are there to better yourself. You have every right to be there.
Politics and activism can be discouraging at times. How do you stay motivated and engaged?
It’s super hard to stay motivated and engaged. Sometimes I think “I’m not going to do this with my life, I’m not going to revolve my life around that [politics]”, but through things like LYAC, my friends who care [about politics], and my friends who don’t know much about politics it gives me space to debrief and that helps keep me going.
If you are involved in politics, activism or social change it’s important to understand your “why”. When you are sad and feel like you’re not making change you can remind yourself of your “why”. It can help remind you that you are passionate and your work does make a difference in people’s lives.
Being so busy with school and community involvement how do you take care of yourself?
I make sure I spending an hour a day doing whatever I want, relaxing or talking to friends. It’s important to have “Me time” each day to chill out. I make sure to keep my own mental health a priority. I have a good support system in place for support and advice, they listen and take into account how I feel.
What's next for you?
I will continue to work and plan Being Our Future and making sure it’s doing what it’s intended to do. I am president of the Athletic Council and Student Council so I will continue to implement initiatives that matter to my peers. Finally, I’m really excited to go to the Youth Assembly at the United Nations in February. I’m excited to represent Canada and I’m excited to meet all the other youth delegates from all over the world (there will be 1000 youth attending)!
Photo supplied by Ainsley Jeffery