WCI home to the youngest recipient of Volunteer Toronto’s 2016 Legacy Award

Tirthesha Pandya, a grade twelve International Baccalaureate student at Weston Collegiate Institute and recipient of Volunteer Toronto’s 2016 Legacy Award.

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.”

Lost dog


A Weston owner needs help in returning this little guy home to safety.

The dog’s name is Arnold and is a golden brown/red 20 lbs Terrier mix. He is very afraid of people and is possibly hiding in a backyard or under a deck.  The main intersection he was last seen at was Weston and Lawrence.

If Arnold has been seen or found please contact Grace Downey at (647)-523-1926.


Former Humber River hospitals to not house incoming refugees

The previous proposal of accommodating incoming Syrian refugees in the currently unused Humber River hospital, specifically Weston’s Church site, have been denied.

Stated in an e-mail from Michael Chan, the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and International Trade and member of the Minister’s ad-hoc Committee on Refugees:

It is unclear whether sites such as Humber River Hospital will still be needed to accommodate refugees.  However, the Salvation Army will be providing clothing, toys and furniture to refugees in addition to other communities in need and would no doubt greatly appreciate [any] offer of assistance.

You mad find more information at: http://thriftstore.ca/central-ontario/ways-give.  If you wish to volunteer or get involved in other initiatives, please visit www. ontario.ca/syrianrefugees.

After contacting Laura Albanese about the idea, it has been further clarified that the hospitals will not serve as housing for any refugees entering Ontario.

We have been informed that the Humber River Hospital (Church site) will likely not be used to house the refugees.

This website has links on how you can contribute in many ways, such as making a donation, sponsoring a family, and volunteering, including where to send donations: https://www.ontario.ca/syrianrefugees


For your reference, the Government of Canada’s website can be found here: https://www.Canada.ca/Refugees

WCI takes a new inclusive approach to annual camping trip

Camp Tamakwa, Algonquin Park. Photo by Harshita Annapareddy.
Camp Tamakwa, Algonquin Park. Photo by Harshita Annapareddy.


The IB program at WCI had been popular for offering their incoming grade nines and graduating students a trip to Algonquin Park, often acting as an incentive to battling the program’s enhanced curriculum.  The idea of a four-day getaway to build friendships over s’mores and canoe sessions while surrounded by beautiful late-September scenery speaks for itself, and often produces fruitful results: the new IB students instantly become more comfortable, and the graduates spend these nostalgic four days around Tea Lake before diving into an intense final year.

Yet, why just the IB students?  A ground-breaking opportunity like Tamakwa should not be restricted to strictly one classification of students.

As of 2015, change had finally arrived.

This year, Weston’s IB director, Ms. Dale, and Guidance Counsellor, Ms. Galanis, with collaboration of many other teachers, successfully opened up the annual Tamakwa trip to all grade nines, inviting every student regardless of their educational background.

The newly proposed Tamakwa accumulated just over one hundred grade nine students. This large combination of IB’s and non-IB’s seemed to introduce a daunting new task of removing boundaries between the two, but once the campers stepped off the boat ride onto the camp site, they became a cohesive, relaxed mixture where no one cared to identify each other’s programs.

Activities included canoeing, hiking, and rock-climbing among others. To replace the traditional skits that each team was to create and act out at the final night’s talent show, a mandatory lip-dub to a song of their choice was showcased instead – needless to say, hilarity ensued.  Team-building and leadership activities, and mentoring from the grade twelves were also included in the program.  Mr. Botnick, Weston’s new principal, and Ms. Aloisie, a vice principal, even made a guest appearance to spend the day participating in the camp activities.

After the four days, new friendships were formed and the grade nines were at ease, having carefree conversations and laughing loudly with both the seniors and each other.

However, tackling the new change proved to be difficult, particularly the pre-trip preparation. The IB students were well-rooted in the tradition of the Tamakwa trip – a stark contrast to the non-IB’s whom were new to this tradition.

“When we did the presentation… we received multiple negative comments on their forms, and we did not know what we could to change that.  But, when we thought back on it, the non-IB students were not given any real information because none of their teachers really knew about Tamakwa and its many perks.  It was the first time all the grade nine students were allowed to come so we ran into a wall trying to think of a way to intrigue the non-IB’s into going,” says Yahye Alasow, a grade twelve student.  “A couple of students came up with an idea of going to their classes and doing more of a close one-on-one presentation.”

During those presentations, the grade nines responded more openly, asking questions, and as the grade twelves rolled on nostalgically about their own grade nine memories, the interest in the room visibly heightened.

“I feel like these grade nines just respond better to one-on-one type of situations,” he continues, “Rather than speaking to them as an elder I noticed it is more effective to talk to them as a friend. They responded better to me and felt comfortable enough to come up and ask me questions.”

Once at Tamakwa, the previous lack of enthusiasm and various worries immediately vanished.

Jan Leonardo, a grade nine student who had only recently come to Canada from the Philippines several months ago, was a notable lively and bright camper.  “[It was] a great experience for me to join that trip,” he says, “Because of Tamakwa, I met a lot of friends. Based on my observation, there’s no division between an IBs and non-IB students. They treat each other as normal students because everyone’s goal is to meet new friends and have fun!”

“Taking both the non-IB and IBs was probably the best idea because in our school there’s this ongoing and unwanted division between both students and it was so refreshing to have that wall between them just crumble,” Aayushi Sharma, another grade twelve responsible for Tamakwa says, “People put down their prejudice and just had fun, and if that’s way they view each other in grade nine, then that’s the way they’ll view each other for the rest of high school.”

Heeho Ryu, another grade twelve, recalls, “Before going into Tamakwa, the grade twelves all sort of had worried that the grade nines would find Tamakwa boring and not participate.  However, the moment the wheels on the bus went round-and-round, I saw the grade nines, elevens, and twelves coming together, making jokes and sharing candy and chips. We all wanted to make Tamakwa a good experience for the grade nines, and so each individual became more understanding, enthusiastic, and dedicated.

“[My team], The Teen Titans, had the brightest, most talented, and friendly kids I had ever met. It’s granted that when we first got into the group, it was sort of awkward, but just after 30 minutes we were joking around, dancing, having conversations about school, and really cooperating to do the best in the two group activities on the first day. I was totally wonderstruck, and it feels, really, that it was I who got to experience what it means to be a part of Weston.”

Evidently, this new progressive step forward will produce positive results within the student bodies for many years to come.  This more cohesive student body will create a more motivating, supporting and accepting environment for these students to progress in, and for their future younger peers to experience as well.


This post was brought to you by:

Laura Albanese, MPP for York South-Weston.