By youth, for youth

Ainsley Cunningham helps lead Tantramar Youth Network through the pandemic
By: Melissa Lombard

Third-year international relations student Ainsley Cunningham grew up in Sackville, NB. She attended another Maritime university in her first year and after spending the final month of her first year studying online at home due to the pandemic, she decided to stay and continue her degree at Mount Allison.

Through her summer employment with the Village of Dorchester, she got involved with the Tantramar COVID Task Force and quickly began making an impact.

Last spring Cunningham stepped into the role of co-chair of a sub-committee of the Tantramar COVID Task Force (now the Community Task Force) — the Tantramar Youth and Student Group, now called the Tantramar Youth Network.

The Network is run by youth, for youth and incorporates members of the community from different organizations, like the Youth Partnership Initiative, to help with mentoring, grant funding, and other resources.

“The mandate of the youth network is really to facilitate and start initiatives that benefit youth in the Tantramar region, including Sackville, Port Elgin, and Dorchester,” says Cunningham. “We brainstorm ideas, but also welcome projects coming to us so we can help find resources and funding.”

The Network is working on launching a Back to School project inspired by Cunningham that would provide elementary and middle school children from low-income families with new back to school supplies.

“My parents are both teachers and when prepping to go back to school they would always buy extra school supplies and clothes for those in need in their class,” she says. “That’s where the idea came from.”

Growing up, Cunningham was highly involved in the community and at her high school. At Tantramar High, she volunteered with the Student Representative Council, the Grad Council, the annual Dragon Boat fund raiser, the drama club, the annual Spookwalk fund raiser, the Youth-in-Action committee, and the annual Terry Fox Run.

She also founded and co-chaired the Mental Health Awareness Committee at TRHS and she continues to volunteer with the Sackville Youth Soccer Association. In her grad year, a serious illness prevented her from captaining her high school badminton team, but she continued to volunteer as the bilingual announcer and official scorekeeper for the championships.

For her efforts, she was awarded the Titan Community Achievement Award in 2019 by the Town of Sackville and also received recognition from TRHS for greatest contribution to the school honours in her graduating year.

The Tantramar Youth Network is just another example of her commitment to her community.

“As someone who grew up in this community, the idea of having this youth led group helping other youth really hit home,” she says. “It feels like we are making an actual difference that will have a positive and lasting impact.”

Passionate about mental health advocacy, Cunningham plans to get involved with Mount Allison’s Change Your Mind group and supporting the Mental Health Advocacy group at Tantramar that she helped found. She has also committed to 120 hours of volunteer work this year as a mentor with the Youth Partnership Initiative.

Through the challenges of the pandemic, Cunningham says it was really refreshing to see the Task Force come together to make a difference.

“The whole Task Force rallied together not only to address issues from the pandemic, but also to break down and alleviate systemic issues, like low income, internet access, and food security.”

Looking ahead, Cunningham is planning to study abroad at the University of Kent for the winter term.