Youth Speak is holding its first silent auction this month to raise funds for its youth mental health initiatives in York Region and across the country virtually.
Auction for Action bids can be placed until May 23. The auction is set to coincide with Mental Health Awareness Month.
"We need funds now more than ever. The growth has been tremendous, trying to respond to the demand for programming related to youth mental health is just huge, it's just increased tremendously," said Youth Speak founder and executive director Una Wright.
Donated items include gift baskets, getaway packages, tickets to sporting events, autographed sports jerseys and equipment and even a helicopter ride.
Wright said she hopes the auction will raise $50,000.
According to Youth Mental Health Canada, an estimated 1.2 million children and youth in Canada are affected by mental illness and Stats Canada reported in 2020 that since COVID-19, those aged 15 to 24 reported the greatest declines in mental health.
Youth Speak is an online and in-person youth-led charity that promotes well-being, compassion and hope through the sharing of personal stories.
It was founded by Wright in 2003 as a result of the mental health challenges within her own family.
When her eldest son was in Grade 8, he began to struggle with mental health issues. Wright wanted to find him the type of assistance he wouldn't shrug off, someone he would really listen to because he wasn't listening to the adults in his life, she said.
"I couldn't find anything. I couldn't find anyone that would come into the school and give a strong message."
It was during her work with Rose of Sharon Services for Young Mothers, where she arranged for teen moms to speak at high schools about their experiences, that Wright realized just how powerful it was for youth to hear about the experiences of their peers.
"And so I thought, OK, I need to start an organization with the same process of youth sharing their personal stories to give a powerful message."
Her eldest son, who later died in a weather-related car accident, was the charity's first speaker.
The charity organizes youth-led, interactive assemblies and workshops for students in Grade 4 through to post-secondary, as well as workshops for corporations, parents and educators.
Workshop topics for youth range from inclusivity, anti-racism and bullying to empowering young women, the impact of being online to mental health and confidence building.
To date, Youth Speak has held almost 3,000 speaking events and reached more than 318,000 students.
The speakers get just as much out of taking part in the assemblies as the students they're speaking to because it's empowering and self-healing, Wright said.
"It gives meaning to your own story and also pays the message forward to others."
Visit the auction website to bid on items.