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Read about the latest from Thrive!


This month, our blog post is written by Mackenzy Willis, Thrive's Manager of Greater Toronto Area and National Programs. In it, Mackenzy explores her experiences working with young people on both sides of bullying.

Mackenzy has facilitated programs with Thrive Youth for over 13 years and in this post, she explores Thrive's approach to converting aggression into leadership, building confidence in young people experiencing bullying, and the enduring impact of these interventions.

The Importance of Early Intervention and Social Skills in Preventing Bullying

Our programs are designed to engage children who struggle with traditional learning environments, and as a result, we often encounter children who have experienced bullying. We also worked with kids who were bullies. We use a couple of different approaches to deal with that. Primarily, our focus is on spinning it through a leadership lens.

Our core theory relies on DARE—inner Discipline, Action, Responsibility, and Reflection through Excellence. We know that if we all return to those concepts and set a high bar for kids, they will excel.

Case Study: Transforming Negative Behaviours into Leadership Opportunities

A few years ago, we had a student in our LCE out-of-school program that consistently made hostile remarks to the other children in their cohort. I talked to her privately, highlighting her outgoing nature, eagerness to participate, and strong leadership skills. I also noted that her dismissive comments stifled the group's creativity and teamwork. I asked her to use her skills to communicate and help enhance the team's success rather than point out weaknesses. She quickly understood, and her behaviour fundamentally changed.

It's crucial, especially with children, to discern whether negative behaviour is a pattern or a one-off incident because quick judgments can be harmful. Factors like hunger, illness, or lack of sleep can affect a child's demeanour. So, recognizing behaviour patterns before addressing issues like bullying is essential in ensuring we don't wrongly accuse or label. Once this has been identified, it's just as important to explain the impact of their actions because they may not understand the long-term consequences of their behaviour."

Building Self-Worth and Confidence Through Positive Reinforcement

Pattern recognition isn't just an important part of identifying bullying behaviour, it's also a necessary part of determining if a child is experiencing bullying, especially in programs like ours, where we interact with them outside of their regular environments. Some key indicators include their mannerisms, such as avoiding eye contact, seldom raising their hand, or not offering suggestions, how they speak about themselves, and even negative interactions with others. 

During our initial workshops, we focus on introspection, which can reveal a lot about our participants' self-perception. When children doubt their worth or capabilities, we as adults can gently probe for more information to understand the root cause without making them feel interrogated by creating a space where they feel safe to express themselves and ensuring they know they're not being judged. This approach allows us to identify potential bullying issues indirectly and address them with sensitivity.

Fostering Leadership and Confidence in Response to Bullying

One way we bolster our participants' confidence is to choose a single area in which they could make a difference, allow them time to practice those skills, build confidence, and then encourage them to become leaders in the area. For example, we had a student in grade six who was severely bullied at school and had low self-esteem. He walked in on the first day of the program quietly, not willing to speak to the other participants. As the program started, I put him in charge of leading the lines. His job was to call out for everyone to join the line and to hold the door open for any stragglers. We focused on building his volume and clarity, starting him with small leadership tasks.

On the day of the program showcase, I tasked him with finding peers to keep the doors open for performers as they moved through the space. This approach allowed him to emerge as a leader multiple times, fostering a supportive environment where every child gets to lead. With new-found confidence, he presented his visual art project at the showcase. 

We can't stop bullying, but we can support the bullied student by spending extra time with them and boosting their self-esteem. Compliments and encouragement can significantly impact these children, thus helping them to open up and gain confidence.

The student eventually led the grade six portion of our show, transforming from a gentle giant who was bullied into a confident leader with the loudest voice. Building confidence and self-esteem at a young age over time can lead to genuinely magical outcomes.

Long-Term Impact: Cultivating Compassionate Leaders for Society

It's truly magical to see the long-term growth our participants demonstrate. I remember one of our participants who was dealing with an undiagnosed learning disability that held him back at school. He was teased for being behind and resorted to aggression to deal with his feelings. When he joined our program, we focused on his strengths, showing him he was more than his writing abilities. As the tallest, he naturally took on visible leadership roles, such as head counts during outings, illustrating his capabilities beyond academic challenges. This approach helped him realize his value, leading him to assert his worth to his peers confidently.

He discovered his passion for music, drama, and voice acting, became an advocate for peers bullied in high school and university, and continues contributing to youth development.

Reflections and Strategic Insights on Bullying Prevention

Ultimately, bullying is a complex issue that can't be "solved" with a single change in a young person's lived environment. Thrive programs should be used as part of a broader network of interventions including those from educators, parents, and the broader community and truly addressing bullying requires commitment, empathy, and strategic action from all parties. At Thrive, our framework for this lies in:

  • Diligently observing in-program behaviours.

  • Cultivating a safe and brave environment where young people feel empowered to speak.

  • Building positive interactions within the group to create new social connections.

  • Intervening and addressing negative situations as soon as possible in a non-judgmental manner.

  • Empowering program participants to take leadership roles.

  • Engaging openly with young people to ensure they feel valued, heard, and supported.

With this approach, we have mitigated the harm of bullying for both parties involved and helped support the overall growth of the young people in our program.

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Art creation

Leaders aren’t born; they’re grown. At Thrive, we say this a lot, but we don’t often get to talk about the second part of that statement: “Growing leaders requires an intentional approach to child and youth development.” This post will look at the intersection of creative experiential learning, Positive Youth Development (PYD), and leadership development. From the PYD formula to real-world case studies, let's uncover how taking a PYD approach fosters positive relationships, develops critical leadership skills, and paves the way for a brighter future.

Understanding Positive Youth Development (PYD)

Positive Youth Development (PYD) is a holistic approach to working with youth that shifts the focus from correcting problems to enhancing strengths and potentials in young people. The PYD formula emphasizes the five Cs—competence, confidence, connection, character, and caring—work synergistically to support youth and create a sixth C: contribution. It's more than overcoming obstacles; it's about full potential and flourishing personally and socially. 

Six Key Assets in the PYD Formula

  1. Competence: Building skills and competencies.

  2. Confidence: Instilling a sense of self-assurance.

  3. Connection: Fostering meaningful relationships.

  4. Character: Developing a solid moral compass.

  5. Caring: Encouraging empathy and compassion.

  6. Contribution: Inspiring youth to make a difference.

Thrive Youth's Approach

Art creation

Our programs are use creative experiential learning, the process of learning by doing through art-based interventions. In a hands-on environment where effort and thought are valued more than artistic perfection, trying something new to express thoughts or feelings can support the development of attributes like self-confidence, self-worth, and self-efficacy–the sense that you can achieve something you’re excited about. In short, it helps young people see their own potential.

For many of our participants who struggle in traditional learning spaces, the feeling of learning new skills, expressing themselves, or even connecting with peers in an inclusive environment can change how they view themselves. 

This approach blends seamlessly into the tenets of PYD, allowing them to make positive changes in their lives without using an externally driven "corrective" force. in this context, art-based interventions serve as a therapeutic and developmental tool. These interventions allow youth to explore their emotions, express their thoughts, and develop creative problem-solving skills.

  1. Enhanced Self-Expression: Art as a universal language.

  2. Emotional Regulation: Therapeutic benefits of artistic activities.

  3. Skill Development: Fostering creativity and critical thinking.

  4. Building Resilience: Embracing mistakes and learning from them.

  5. Fostering Connections: Collaborative art projects for community building.

Sustained Impact: PYD in the Long Run

PYD isn’t just about preventing negative outcomes; it's about supporting a generation of young people in developing critical leadership and life skills. Integrating experiential learning through art-based interventions and PYD provides a vibrant and practical approach to achieving this goal. By encouraging artistic expression and creating supportive environments, we nurture our youth's talents and potential and invest in a brighter, more creative future.

Want to get involved? Learn more about how you can work with Thrive to support young Canadians across the country.

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Onlia Insurance Innovates with Charitable Giving App Feature in Support of Thrive Youth

Toronto, ON – February 28th, 2024 – Onlia Insurance is proud to announce a partnership with Thrive Youth Development Canada, a charity committed to providing leadership development programs to children and youth in underserved communities across Canada. Starting in March 2024, Onlia will introduce a digital giving feature within its app, allowing customers to donate a portion of their monthly cashback driving rewards directly to Thrive Youth.

This innovative partnership harnesses the power of technology to facilitate effortless digital donations from consumers, fostering a mutually beneficial initiative that enriches communities and invests in the future leaders of Canada.

"At Onlia, we always look for ways to improve our customers' insurance experience. Our latest initiative, integrating a charitable giving option into our monthly safe driving rewards program, reflects our commitment to using technology for positive social impact," said Lambert Morvan, CEO of Onlia. "By empowering our customers to support Thrive Youth, we are collectively investing in the future leaders of Canada, and reinforcing Onlia's commitment to driving positive change within our communities."

"Collaborating with Onlia is a game-changer for Thrive," said Jenn Wilson, CEO of Thrive Youth. "It not only raises awareness about our mission but also opens up new avenues to expand our programming and support more young people in under-resourced communities across the country. Together with Onlia and its customers, we're setting a new standard for corporate social responsibility in Canada.”

For more information about Onlia, Thrive Youth, and how to participate in the donation program, please visit

About Onlia 

Onlia offers innovative digital home and auto insurance to Canadians. Onlia’s mission is to bring clarity, simplicity and utility to auto and home insurance. Because Canadians want great coverage without complication — and no matter what turns life takes, to feel supported along the way.

Onlia was launched in 2018, as a joint venture between Achmea, the largest insurance group in the Netherlands, and Fairfax Financial, a Canadian-based financial holding company.

About Thrive Youth

Thrive Youth is a registered charity committed to providing free-of-cost leadership development programs for children and youth aged 9 to 17 in under-resourced communities. In doing so, Thrive Youth aims to close the opportunity gap for young people facing barriers to success and empower them to reach their full potential and thrive in their communities.

For More Information

For further information about Onlia's safe driving cashback program and the partnership with Thrive Youth, please contact:

Julia Stein

Director Marketing, Brand & Communications

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