The Legacy Award, presented annually by Volunteer Toronto during National Volunteer Week, is a highly competitive award bestowed upon 25 individuals of any age who have demonstrated a high calibre of community involvement, leadership, and philanthropic passion within Toronto. Thus, it is no surprise that Weston Collegiate Institute’s Tirthesha Pandya would be one of the few recipients from a plethora of over 200 nominations.
Chosen by a selection committee of various community leaders, past recipients, and Volunteer Toronto board members, Pandya, a grade twelve student at Weston Collegiate Institute, was given the Toronto Legacy Award this past April.
Though successfully navigating through high school is often a feat in itself, Pandya makes balancing copious amounts of extracurriculars and volunteering hours with the daunting syllabus of the International Baccalaureate program look nearly effortless. This commitment to a busy schedule of altruism and academics did not go overlooked as she now carries the title of one of Toronto’s many ‘secret superheroes‘.
Pandya first began her notable volunteer work upon joining the Ontario Lung Association in the eighth grade. Driven by a personal and cultural attachment to anti-smoking, she participated in numerous protests and presentations advocating for restrictive laws on the tobacco industry and the negative influence of smoking on youth. Her dynamic participation within the organization eventually allowed Pandya to write and present her own deputation to Members of Parliament at Queen’s Park in support of Bill 45, a bill that bans nearly all flavours of tobacco products while strictly monitoring the sale and supply of e-cigarettes, thus eliminating the appeal of tobacco products to youth. Her efforts proved fruitful; Bill 45 was passed January 2016.
Additionally, Pandya joined the City Youth Council of Toronto (CYCTO), where she was elected as Vice Chair for two consecutive years and now stands as a Youth Councillor for Ward 11, and the Youth Advocacy Training Institute (YATI), an interactive youth program branching from the Ontario Lung Association. Equipped with her knowledge from YATI and CYCTO’s networking opportunities in tandem, Pandya currently works to design an effective presentation on the tobacco industry’s impact on youth to be easily distributed and reiterated at schools across the TDSB.
When not attending summits at Parliament Hill, Pandya finds herself in basketball shorts and cross trainers, stomping the Weston Collegiate Institute sports scene. Whilst being a solid member of the girls basketball and volleyball team for four years, she dabbles to-and-fro ultimate frisbee, rugby, badminton, and soccer, and collects shiny mementos at every athletic banquet to immortalize her natural athleticism, including Rookie to Senior Athlete of the Year, the West Region Optimist Award, and the OFSAA Colin Hood Award.
She is an active member of the SAGE Business Club, Future Aces, and Weston Ambassadors, and a second-year International Baccalaureate student.
However, this mélange of academic, athletic, and extracurricular success did not spontaneously manifest itself within Pandya. She describes her unexpected placement in the senior girls basketball team, despite being a freshmen, as her initial confidence-building moment that would allow her to transform into an active WCI student.
“I was the only Indian girl on the team,” Pandya recalls. “And the only grade nine player on a senior basketball team.”
This sudden immersion into foreign territory at the hands of her coach, Chris Reid, forced Pandya to embrace a sense of confidence that would accompany her throughout high school. Though initially dwarfed with sporadic playtime among a well-established group of senior girls, Reid called her to court for the most crucial game of the season — city championships. Her juvenile status was immediately forgotten as her playtime allowed the girls to return home boasting the title of city wide champions.
“[Mr. Reid] has supported me so much through everything,” she recalls. “I’ve always wanted to be as confident, optimistic, and energetic as he is.”
Pandya also attributes much of her support to her sister, Kartiki Pandya, Jessica Diener of YATI, and her parents who been always there to remind her to ‘eat and do homework’ throughout her hectic agenda.
“[Jessica has given] me so many opportunities … like the deputation. She chose me to make it. It really opened my eyes about myself and how much I could do to help the community,” she says fondly.
A determined, well-rounded, and ambitious changemaker with the ability to manipulate her many talents to enhance the quality, rather than quantity, of her volunteer work; Tirthesha Pandya undoubtedly fits the mould for a Legacy Award recipient albeit young. Adept with time management, she skillfully allocates her priorities in order to balance a lifestyle of countless essays, chats with MP’s, and rugby tournaments. Her contagious positivity trails behind her wherever she goes, be it Parliament Hill or WCI hallways.
Rather than marking the end of a chapter, receiving Volunteer Toronto’s 2016 Legacy Award among a party of middle-aged recipients only further inspires Pandya to continue her public-spirited endeavors, particularly with the City Youth Council of Toronto as she enters her first year at Schulich.
On her volunteering experience, Pandya remarks, “… When you do something you’re so passionate about, no matter how many hours, it just never feels like it’s enough.”