A common thing we hear a lot in New Brunswick is that our “best and brightest” are leaving in droves to greener pastures like Toronto or Alberta.
Sure, this is true, but only to a point. There are actually a lot of talented young people who are determined to stay in New Brunswick, build their careers and make their communities better.
Here’s a look at just a handful of them.
Arianne Melara is on a mission to make young immigrants active participants in shaping the future of the province.
Melara, the Program Manager of the immigrant youth leadership program Imagine NB, is an immigrant herself. She was born and raised in El Salvador, a picturesque country in Central America surrounded by beaches, mountains, volcanoes and rainforests. She says it also has a high-level of poverty and crime, which draws the most international attention.
“You might hear in the media a lot about it being unsafe to travel, prone to gang-related activity, and not a well-developed country,” says Melara. “Despite these realities, it’s a country filled with incredibly hard-working people, much history, and pride in our local culture and land.”
There are many wonderful things about living in El Salvador, she says, but her parents decided she should go to university in a country like Canada that would “offer better and more opportunities for me and my future.”
Things have worked out very well for her here. She went to St. Thomas University on a scholarship and graduated in 2015. She worked in Toronto for a year and a half before moving back to New Brunswick to take the job with Imagine NB, a two-year program designed to help immigrant youth in high school take their leadership skills and experience to the next level.
“Coming back has actually been one of the best decisions in my life,” she says. “I loved Toronto and my experience there shaped my career and personality of today, but New Brunswick has so much more to offer me.”
Melara now wants to make sure other young immigrants have the same opportunities to integrate and build a new life here. She says Imagine NB, a program created by the New Brunswick Multicultural Council, can help make that happen.
“Immigrant youth face significant barriers and challenges in terms of integrating and feeling included in the community due to a lack of awareness and community networks,” says Melara. “They too are engines of economic development and have so much potential we should tap into and groom.”
Sue Duguay is only 18, but she’s more civically engaged than most older adults. Duguay is the president of La Fédération des jeunes francophones du Nouveau-Brunswick (FJFNB) and is the current vice-president of the Fédération de la jeunesse canadienne-française (FJCF). She has helped lead various policy files, one being on language security.
“Naturally, I am working on the French language, but I believe that what I’m about to say can apply to any minorities. For people who never lived a language minority situation, it can be hard to understand. It becomes part of your identity and then you get criticized about the way you speak so it automatically attacks who you are as a person,” says Duguay.
“So I think it is necessary that we develop a positive approach to different accents and language registers, that way we can just learn the multiple realities of the common spoken language instead of correcting people to adopt one specific way to express who they are.”
Duguay was also one of the young organizers behind the #Vote16 campaign, which advocates for lowering the voting age in New Brunswick to 16 and requiring mandatory civic education in schools.
“People aren’t voting because they don’t feel like they have a place in our system, the age groups aren’t balanced. Sixteen-year-olds are underestimated, yet, when it’s time to let them know everything they do wrong, we give them full responsibility,” she says.
“By lowering the voting age and giving that education that we as a society clearly all need, we would plant the seed for future educated generations and to eventually have an entire electorate that truly understands the value of that right to vote.”
This fall, Duguay will currently working on organizing a conference event. She’s also excited to vote in upcoming elections.
“’I’m looking forward to my first vote, since I’m only 18, during the upcoming elections and I’m pretty sure my name will be on a ballot one of these days, but that’s not for the next year.”
Oscar Baker is a young journalist telling stories most often ignore. From the Elsipogtog First Nation and St. Augustine, Florida, his experiences growing up helped shape him to want to become a storyteller.
“I grew up on a reserve and in a Floridian black ghetto. I’ve seen first hand that desperate people do desperate things to survive and I love telling those stories,” he says.
“When I was younger I remember the frustration I felt watching Tom Brokaw rattle off another statistic about the incarceration rate of young black men. They were certainly ugly statistics, but I felt like if he knew how hard our lives were maybe America would understand us better and not see us as a problem to society. That’s largely why I became a journalist. I’ve always loved writing and reading. And I wanted a chance to shine a light on what desperation looks like.”
Baker has worked for CBC New Brunswick, where he also worked directly with the Indigenous unit, as well as CBC Manitoba’s radio programming. He was also the recipient of the David Adams Richards award for non-fiction writing for his piece, The Violent Ones, which explored the link between violence and poverty in his life. He’s currently working as a staff writer for Wicked Ideas where he covers indigenous issues.
“I think Indigenous stories are important like reconciliation, [missing and murdered Indigenous women], and the battle for clean drinking water and explaining why they affect the rest of Canada,” says Baker.
“But equally important is having bright Indigenous voices talking about all the issues in Canada, such as taxes, or current events. The Indigenous people that make up Turtle Island (North America) are also vastly different, from Cree to Blackfoot, Mohawk and Dene and they’re all involved in so many careers and walks of life, I think it’s time we heard their stories and voices.”
Baker is currently working on a personal story for The Deep. He is also working on a big story with Wicked Ideas which dives into how First Nations people and government can better the ways they talk to each other.
“Consultation after consultation seem to leave a lot of parties hurt afterward. Oftentimes, First Nations leave saying the consultation process is flawed, and the government feels they talked to the right people,” he says. “But as I explored, some Indigenous people have an innate fear of colonial institutions like provincial and federal governments and we’re exploring if there are better ways to talk to each other.”
Jared Betts might just be one of Moncton’s favourite people right now as the guy behind the city’s first Taco Week in May. It was an idea he got during his travels in Mexico and Central America and thought it’d be a great event to organize with the community once he moved home. The inaugural Moncton Taco Week raised $7,785 for The United Way.
“Travelling around a lot was amazing, but I felt it was time to move home again. Trying something fun within my community inspired by my travels down south was exactly what I needed to do,” he says. “Working with the restaurants was so much fun and they all seemed to think it would be a great way to collaborate while giving back to the community through our United Way partnership.”
Betts is also a gifted artist, specializing in paintings and murals. He recently completed the Artslink Catapult accelerator program in New Brunswick, which helps artists turn their passions into a business.
“I’m hoping to do more murals within the Maritime provinces,” says Betts. “I will also continue to exhibit on a national and international level while continuing to sell work throughout New Brunswick. I’m extremely happy to be staying in this province by the ocean.”
In July, Betts has a solo exhibition at Moncton’s Apple Art Gallery featuring all new works. He is in the process of working on another big project.
“I am currently working on a year-long project that involves silk screening, sphinx moths, butterflies and several trips to Saint John for research at the New Brunswick Museum,” he says. “The project is called Images Rémanentes and it is the result of a collaboration between l’Atelier d’estampe Imago, Galerie d’art Louise-et-Reuben-Cohen and Galerie Sans Nom, supported by The Canada Council for the Arts and New Brunswick.”
Sara Taafe believes that business and technology can drive social and community change. Taafe has previously worked for HotSpot Parking, where she played a role in the company’s Pattern of Life Project in Uptown Saint John.
“This project was so cool – its purpose was to analyze and understand how people interacted with Uptown Saint John from a pedestrian and vehicular context, through beacon technology and conducting data analysis,” says Taaffe.
“What really hooked me was how important this information could be in decision-making – designing, updating and changing things uptown to support how humans interacted with it and having the data to clearly understand and validate that.”
Taaffe currently works as a data analyst at digital and IT consulting company T4G. She and her former HotSpot colleague, Erin Flood, are also the founders of Open Data Atlantic, a group focused on educating and empowering citizens to create positive changes using open data through information/knowledge sharing between members, workshops and book club meetings.
“Essentially, we choose a data set, analyze it and then talk about it – what could be improved through this analysis? We’ve looked at data sets on the trees in the City of Moncton, traffic accidents in the City of Fredericton and by-law infractions listed by ward and complaint types for the City of Fredericton, to name a few,” says Taaffe. “A staple to the meetings is a collaborative space for stakeholders of all backgrounds – academic, private or public – to come together and think about how things could be made better based off what we know.”
Open Data Atlantic has housed eight gatherings to date which have included 108 New Brunswickers.
“That’s something we’re really proud of because that’s 108 people who have seen open data in a new light.”
Rachel Mathis is a young leader who’s helping create more young leaders. She is the founder of Invigorate Leaders, a business that creates and runs curriculums to support the development of leadership skills in young people. It runs programs and workshops for all ages ranging from reading facial expressions, to managing a budget. They also just started offering programming online so they can be more accessible.
“I started it when I was 19 because I felt there was a lot of psychology research I was reading for my degree program which would have helped my peers and myself during high school,” says Mathis. “I wanted to develop easier ways for people to access that kind of resource so their growth wouldn’t be as difficult.”
Based in Sackville, Mathis is an active member in her community, including sitting on the board as a founder of the Sackville Commons Co-op. She’s also on the board of the Sackville Farmer’s Market.
With a new baby at home, Mathis says she’s focusing on how to expand Invigorate Leaders’ online content, which is opening up more business opportunities.
“I’ve begun to offer more material online and it has made the company more sustainable,” she says. “This is making me think more about what else is out there and what more I could offer my community and the broader Atlantic area.”
Christian is a Moncton restaurateur that’s helping expand the city’s food scene. He’s the co-owner of two Thaizone restaurants in the greater Moncton area. When the first one opened in 2015, it was the first Thaizone outside Quebec. Martin also works as the Atlantic Canadian development manager for several other brands including, Pannizza, Pur & Simple and The Fifth Ticket. Pur & Simple has already opened a Moncton location and now Martin is on the hunt for a franchisee for The Fifth Ticket.
“We would like to find a franchisee for The Fifth Ticket Moncton,” he says. “It is a fantastic brand that would do very well in the Greater Moncton Area. The food, drink and ambiance are amazing.”
Martin’s passion is helping people reach their goals through different franchising options. He and the team at Eat It Brands hope to bring more restaurant names to the region.
“We are working on new brands and concepts to bring in Atlantic Canada, offering our customers different options,” says Martin.
Sam Wheeler is an aspiring entrepreneur hoping to change childcare with her idea Welearn Academy, a software for the daycare industry focused on the teachers.
“If you look at just New Brunswick, the staff turnover rate in daycare is almost 30 per cent, that is ridiculously high for any industry and it’s not good for our kids,” says Wheeler. “The software is going to be designed for teachers to use in and out of the classroom with features to help them save time on admin duties like ratios, logging, and searching for information as well as helping them be better teachers and feel good about their days by having access to credited research and activities.”
Welearn was something Wheeler decided to pursue seriously after the idea came in third place at Saint John Start Up Weekend this past year.
“I am currently in the Enterprise Saint John Venture Validation Program to help me bring my idea to opportunity phase to be able to attract investors and secure funding,” she says. “I am a big dreamer so I can’t think of anything better than having ‘Welearn Academy’-certified daycares across Canada, that would make my heart sing to see so many facilities loving what I love and striving to create a better childcare industry.”
For Wheeler, her passion lies in creating a better place for childcare workers and teachers.
“They have such hard jobs and there haven’t really been any big changes in the industry to make it easier for them, and I just don’t think it’s right that the people teaching our babies aren’t being taken care of,” she says.
“Right now my plans are really just to work as hard as I can to make this dream a reality…I hope that by the end of summer and into the fall I am able to secure enough funds to bring on a designer and start on a working prototype.”
With files from Mark Leger