The Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment Program is a global movement, inspiring young people to become leaders and mentors to their younger peers ages 11 to 15 - not only developing personally, but promoting social progress in their communities and world-wide.
Sponsored by the Baha’i Faith, JYSEP is now active in over 150 countries around the world, including Canada – welcoming youth of all backgrounds and faiths.
In Bradford, JYSEP supports the World Citizen Youth Group, a group of young people who meet every Sunday to talk about issues, make informed decisions, and carry out a monthly service project.
Young people like Shoghi Toomraei, who joined the group at the age of 10.
“My mom had children’s classes,” Toomraei explained. “As I got older, she introduced me to JYSEP.”
For the past six years, he has been part of the World Citizen Youth Group. Now 16, he explained, “Last year, I was a member. This year I’m an Animator,” a mentor to the younger members.
Personally, he says the shared studies and guidance through a series of workbooks has been helpful, “especially in high school, when faced with tough situations. It guided me to make the right decisions.”
Toomraei added, “I feel it helps me grow as a person, and I feel it’s important to help the community.”
As for other youth, who might be interested in joining, he said, “I think it’s a great opportunity for youth, learning to help others. It’s a great attribute to have!”
The Bradford group has been active, not only in community activities, but in the arts and music – singing, composing and hosting a concert last year to share their talents.
Former facilitator, adult Noora Akhavan describes some of the group’s activities and partnerships – including their annual tea room and treasure sale fundraiser for the Mona Foundation empowering women and children through education, held every February. This year, the funds were directed to the Barli Institute for rural women in India.
“For the past 5 years they have been making care packages for York Support Services Network clients who are in crisis,” said Akhavan. “The care packages were put together using their own money, and include personal notes from the youth.”
The teens also helped plant a garden at the shelter, and painted art on the walls, to cheer the residents.
They have been involved in Black History Month celebrations in Bradford, worked with the BWG Diversity Action Group, supported a youth camp, and even made their own film, explaining JYSEP.
In the fall of 2019, some of the young volunteers were finally old enough to participate in the Inn From the Cold homeless shelter program in Newmarket. The kids raised funds to purchase ingredients for a meal, which their parents cooked and they served to those at the shelter.
The World Citizen Youth Group brings together kids from a variety of different faiths and backgrounds, in Bradford and surrounding areas.
All of the current members have attended Roger White Academy, a private school for Grades K through 8 in Aurora, offering a holistic education – where they were introduced to the concept of community service.
“So many of my friends are here,” said Sophie Greenwood, noting that the spiritual development and the study of social issues are also important to her. “Every time we sit down and pray together, and read the books, it refreshes me.”
“It can also be a service to the community,” said her sister Ysabel.
Brother-sister team Blake and Laela also joined to be with their friends from the Academy, and to get involved. “I like doing all the service projects,” said Blake.
“It turned out to be really fun, and we helped a lot of people,” said fellow-member Max Yamasaki.
Even during the pandemic, the group has managed to keep engaged – working with the BWG Diversity Action Group on the ‘Make a Card, Cheer a Heart’ campaign.
And on a Sunday in July, they were at Fuller Heights Park in Bradford, cleaning up the trash and plastic water bottles left behind at the basketball court behind W.H. Day Elementary School.
“We do a lot of service projects,” said Max’s sister Yana. “I just like helping people, and it feels so great that we’re giving back to the community.”
On Canada Day, the group received recognition from the Town of Bradford West Gwillimbury, presented with the BWG Civic Award for Organization of the Year.