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SYS-CON MEDIA Authors: Elizabeth White, Mike Kavis, Carmen Gonzalez, Pat Romanski, Liz McMillan

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Six At-Risk Youth to Be Honoured as Leaders

TORONTO, ONTARIO -- (Marketwired) -- 04/16/14 -- DAREarts announced today that along with Cultural Award Recipient Rick Mercer, six youth from across Canada will be receiving Leadership Awards.

The theme this year is "sea2sea2sea". It features the iceberg, which was the visual focus during painter Cory Trepanier's iceberg inspired DARE2draw cultural bridging program.

Founder Marilyn Field: "The iceberg, a Canadian icon, perfectly symbolizes our country's young people. What lies beneath the surface is a huge, untapped power that will render them capable of overcoming any of life's storms. From sea to sea to sea, using all the arts, DAREarts empowers our country's vulnerable kids to realize their full potential.

DAREarts Leadership Awards proceeds will benefit DAREarts' programs that empower 13,000 underserved 9-to-19 year-olds yearly to escape the cycle of poverty and become leaders. Six DAREarts graduates are also presented with Leadership Awards and scholarships for turning their lives around and igniting positive change in their communities.

This year's Youth Recipients are:

Hamdi Ahmed, Etobicoke, ON

Hamdi lives in the northwest Etobicoke (Rexdale) area, and is currently attending grade 11 at Thistletown Collegiate Institute. At her school, Hamdi sits on the Student Administrative Council as their Secretary, and also enjoys volunteering in her community - she has accumulated over 600 hours so far! "I had never been much of a talker before DAREarts," Hamdi says, "but thanks to the program, I really did gain the confidence to speak up for myself and not let people walk all over me". DAREarts encouraged Hamdi to grow in her self-confidence, and after graduating the DAREarts Program she auditioned to be Valedictorian of her grade 8 class, and won it. According to Hamdi, "It's important for people to understand, I think, that DAREarts helps kids in so many different ways and without it, I truly don't even know where I'd be right now". In the winter of 2011, Hamdi travelled to her parents' native Somalia, and gained an entirely new perspective from the experience. "While my parents always told me to be grateful for what I have," she says, "I don't think it really set in until I saw other people who looked like me and had absolutely nothing". After she graduates high school, Hamdi plans on joining a nursing program to eventually be able to help places like Somalia and other developing countries that have a great need for health care professionals.

Marlo Mason, Vancouver, BC

Marlo is Heiltsuk from Bella Bella, BC. He currently lives in Vancouver, BC and is a grade 10 student at Britannia High school. DAREarts helped Marlo find his voice; initially Marlo was a very shy student. DAREarts helped him to become a bit more social in his class, and he liked how the environment felt. The 2010 class of DAREarts worked on the play The Fantastiks at the Vancouver playhouse theatre, and Marlo's class was able to perform right before the play started for the public to watch. This year Marlo stepped into the high school mentor role with DAREarts. He has helped younger students explore the opera Don Giovanni through the arts from five lower-mainland schools in BC. A highlight from this experience for him was when he played a lunchtime concert for the young students and shared with them his passion for music. Marlo is a musician and plays the baritone sax, trumpet, flute and bassoon. He plays in a community band called "The Carnival Band". They have travelled almost everywhere performing music from Quesnel, BC to Texas, France and the community of Commercial Drive. This past March, Marlo and his high school band travelled to Cuba to play at two music schools and an orphanage. He enjoyed visiting Cuba because it gave him the chance to learn about local life in a third-world country, as well as the opportunity to return with some new information about music.

Caden Okeese, Webequie, ON

Caden, the youngest Leadership recipient, is a grade 7 student at Simon Jacob Memorial Education Centre (S.J.M.E.C.) in the remote northern Ontario Aboriginal community of Webequie. He has witnessed some of the challenges faced within his community first-hand, and is determined to take a stand for his friends and family. His message is straight from the heart: "I say no to drugs cause I don't want to feel too much feels that everybody feels/And cry because drugs ruining their lives/And feeling the feels that give them more feels/ that they didn't want to feel." During this year's Black Light Theatre project with DAREarts, Caden took charge and delivered not only a great performance as Rabbit, but motivated the other students to step up and participate as a team. Caden encouraged his peers to show pride in what they had created, and was seen sporting his Rabbit ears around the community.

Luke Scollard, Nestleton, ON

Luke is currently a grade 12 student at Port Perry High School, and is very involved in his school's Student Council, having held positions such as Junior Representative. He is also involved in his school's music program, bands and choirs, as well as is a member of the 'Reach for the Top' team. DAREarts helped Luke by fuelling his love for learning. According to Luke, "The passion I show to discover things in the classes I take in school, and in life in general, was encouraged by DAREarts." He strives to maintain the DAREarts principles of Discipline, Action, Responsibility and Excellence in his high school life. "All in all," he says, "even after four years, I am still DAREarts." Luke enjoys writing as well as working with computers, and hopes to make his career in technology and computer programming. Additionally, Luke aspires to one day be the author of a successful novel.

Danielle Truong, Toronto, ON

Danielle currently lives in Toronto and is completing her grade 12 year at the Riverdale Collegiate Institute. Danielle enjoys playing violin and being a member of the Strings Executive at her school, as well as she holds the position of Co-Editor of the school newspaper in addition to her part-time work as a School Assistant at Kew Park Montessori Day School. DAREarts has helped Danielle face challenges by providing her with the knowledge and confidence to 'push through' her struggles. "Being in DAREarts has given me so many opportunities to learn and grow through activities, as well as learning from the experiences of the countless number of guests, teachers, and friends that we have the pleasure to talk to during every occasion.", Danielle says. Her long-term goals are to be happy and successful in whichever career path she chooses to take, and she also wishes to give back to those who have helped her get to where she is today. Danielle has a passion for music and is a strong believer in music education, and wants to have a positive impact on society to inspire others to believe in themselves and work hard to achieve their goals.

Katherine Welsh, Toronto, ON

Katherine is currently in grade 11 of the International Baccalaureate Program at Monarch Park Collegiate in the east end of Toronto. She holds many positions at her school, including Captain of the Announcement Team, Co-Leader of the Jazz Choir, and Executive Member of the Athletic Council, in addition to the many clubs and teams she has joined. Currently, she is also in the Toronto Youth Theatre's spring production of "Citizenship". DAREarts helped shape Katherine's passion and ambition by introducing her to the arts as viable career option, giving her the skills and perseverance necessary to overcome the hardships that can be present in the life of an artist. According to Katherine, "DAREarts helped me realize my strengths, weaknesses and potential as a leader by allowing me to thrive in positions of power and as a team-member, teaching me the importance of both". Katherine hopes to be able to continue performing in musical theatre, as well as wishes to identify and 'cut down' the various stigmas that exist for today's youth by exploring the controversial topics frequently at the centre of contemporary musicals. "I feel that as a generation," she says, "we tend to stay within what we know, content in the separation because the unknown is scary. Stigma based on race, gender, and sexual identity is an unfortunate but all too common flaw in the youth of today; but it is a problem that can be fixed with a simple understanding of the other's situation".

Guests attending the gala will enjoy dinner prepared by Presidential Gourmet, auctions and entertainment by Newfoundland recording artist Barry Canning. Also featured will be DAREarts program children. Dinner will be interspersed with the Awards presentations and the always-inspiring personal stories from the youth about how DAREarts has helped them change their lives for the better.

New this year will be an 'AfterChill' party and dance in the Chroma following the Awards, for both the guests and younger professionals. Party starts at 9pm.

DAREarts is a Canadian not-for-profit organization, which stands for "Discipline, Action, Respect, Responsibility and Excellence in Education". DAREarts' 5-year program works with 9-14 year olds from schools in high-priority neighbourhoods, empowering them to become leaders. Visit www.darearts.com for more information about DAREarts. Visit http://www.darearts.wordpress.com for up-to-date sharing of their experiences.

DAREarts thanks its lead supporters: Northbridge Insurance, Guy Carpenter, Scotiabank, TD, Ontario Arts Council and Ontario Trillium Foundation.

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