She may be just 16, but Layan Haddadin has already found a way to make a difference in her community.
Even more remarkable, she didn’t let a few challenges - like a move to a new country, starting a new school and a worldwide pandemic - stand in her way.
Now in Grade 11, Layan and her family moved to Burlington from Jordan in 2019. She started Grade 7 at St. Elizabeth Seton just before the COVID-19 lockdowns.
“It was all online when I first got here,” she said of her school routine. “I didn't really meet a lot of friends or people here and I didn't really know anyone. So it was kind of hard.”
She discovered a volunteer opportunity with Our Kids Network (OKN) that gave her a chance to not only connect with kids her own age and get a sense of the broader Halton community, but also to help others fit in and engage with their peers.
She became an OKN youth ambassador for the Halton Impact Survey and worked as part of the Communications Crew, where she focused on projects such as “Climate Crusaders” and “Community Partner Spotlight". She also worked on a craft sale to raise money for Milton’s Darling Home for Children.
Getting involved with OKN - even though the programs were still all virtual - gave Layan a small taste of her new home and its culture.
“It was really exciting for me because that was the first time I really felt connected to my community and the people,” she said.
Layan also made an impression at school, and was given the Perseverance and Resilience Award when she graduated Grade 8 at St. Elizabeth Seton. The award recognizes a student who has demonstrated strength and courage to overcome obstacles and adapt to changing circumstances.
As she was entering high school and thinking about her future, Layan got involved in Tech Under Twenty, which enables Halton Youth to explore their interests and potential career paths. She was an ambassador and part of the executive team, where she helped organize TU20 events to help other kids find their way. The role involved creating a survey to determine what the participants wanted to learn about, coordinating the speakers and promoting the program.
“We had 28 students participating with us in the meeting so it really improved my public speaking skills,” she said of the experience.
Layan has also volunteered as a teacher’s assistant at Bulbul Academy, an Arabic language centre in Oakville.
“I wanted to support younger kids from Arab countries to speak their native language,” she said.
At Corpus Christi, Layan is focused on her classes - she enjoys biology and has an interest in psychology. She’s not much into sports, but has tried chess and enjoyed making projects with the art club.
She encourages other kids to step out of their comfort zones.
“One tip I would give them is to try out different clubs and see what they like because you never know what your interests could be without trying them,” she said. “So we need to try things out to put yourself out there.”
Layan, who has two younger siblings, credits her parents for her strong work ethic, and giving her the support and encouragement to tackle challenges head on.
“They are my biggest inspiration,” she said. “They have always taught me each and every step of my life and they motivate me to give myself a chance to focus on my dreams.
“And they taught me that every struggle I have to go through to get somewhere has a successful outcome.”