Grade 12 Student Recognized for Impact on Indigenous Youth
“I feel that as privileged youth, we have an obligation to give back to our communities and set goals to help others.”
After five years of dedicated service to Indigenous youth in Canada from an initiative that he co-founded, Daniel Berton, Grade 12, was recently honoured with a prestigious award from his community.
On January 29, 2023, Berton was presented with an ‘Outstanding Volunteer Service to the Community 2022 Award’ by Yvan Baker, MP for Etobicoke Centre.
“I was nominated by the community for my Indigenous Youth Hockey Equipment Drive and service to Indigenous communities,” says Berton. “It is an extremely proud moment for me to share with the St. Mike’s family.”
The Community Recognition Awards, which Baker presents annually, recognize individuals and groups who are making a difference in the Etobicoke community.
“Daniel’s recognition is a true testament to both his continued hard work and his constant commitment to place the needs of others before his own,” says Francesco Bellissimo, accounting and economics teacher at SMCS. “As a proud member of the SMCS faculty and staff, I know both myself and my colleagues strive to provide our students with the tools necessary to be leaders both inside and outside the classroom, as well as in the future after they leave the yellow brick halls of St. Mike’s. When wonderful stories like Daniel’s arise where he is exhibiting leadership and being recognized by his community for his efforts, it truly feels like mission accomplished.”
Berton, along with his friend Ethan, started the hockey equipment drive in 2018.
“I have always enjoyed playing hockey ever since I could remember,” says Berton. “In Grade 8, I learned that many Indigenous children living in northern communities did not have the same opportunity to play hockey that I did, due to a lack of resources. I wanted to be part of something to change that sad fact. Something which would make a difference. I reached out to my goalie pal (Ethan) who also collected equipment and we decided to partner up to co-found our Annual Indigenous Youth Hockey Equipment Drive.”
To date, the pair have collected roughly 700 bags filled with equipment, almost 2,000 hockey sticks, and more than 100 sets of goalie pads, which have all been generously donated to Indigenous communities in need.
“In collaboration with the OPP, who distributed the donated equipment, it was discussed the initial community of need would be in Fort Albany, Ontario,” says Berton. “As we collected many more bags than that community needed, Attawapiskat, Sagamok First Nation was added. The more we gathered, the more communities were serviced.”
Each year, from September to December, Berton typically puts in approximately 100 hours of service managing and organizing the hockey equipment drive.
“It is super important for young people like myself to volunteer for a few reasons,” says Berton. “First, helping others feels great. Second, kids have big networks with schools and sports; we can raise awareness and get many volunteers quickly. And finally, volunteering is a great way to learn new skills such as communication, planning, and leadership.”
To get the word out about their initiative, Berton and his partner created flyers outlining the items they were looking for as well as drop-off dates and locations. They distributed them to community schools, rinks, minor hockey teams, and used social media to spread their message.
“What I enjoy most about my volunteer work is seeing the positive impact it has on the lives of Indigenous youth,” he says. “Seeing and sharing the photos of equipment being distributed and played with, getting the letters of thanks in from the kids and the communities we’ve served is incredibly rewarding. It makes everyone involved feel fantastic.”
This year alone, the team was able to collect 200 hockey bags, more than 200 hockey sticks, and two dozen pairs of goalie pads. Some of the equipment was even sent to communities in the Northwest Territories.
“Daniel embodies all three major aspects of the school’s vision, with a significant focus on service,” says Bellissimo. “His countless community service endeavors show his dedication to helping those around him and being a leader in this area. Despite the significant time commitments that these activities add to a busy schedule, Daniel has always remained positive; in addition, the smile on his face when he talks about them is a clear indication of how proud and happy he is to serve the community. Furthermore, Daniel’s dedication to service also impacts the other two aspects of the school’s vision, as it displays his kind and positive character and his strong desire to live the values of our faith every day.”