Young Leaders at Ross Creek


Teenagehood can be fraught, but not for a group of eighteen youth ages 13-18 who recently joined the Ross Creek Centre for the Arts for their summer-long youth leadership program, along with their leader.

Many teens struggle with the balance of wanting and needing independence while not being quite ready to strike out on their own. Even without a global pandemic, anxiety levels for teens across North America are high, and this year there have been many disappointments. From missing graduations and opportunities for travel, to sport and productions cancelled, uncertainties abound. For eighteen young people from across Nova Scotia, and even as far as Ontario, Ross Creek is offering a sense of purpose and normalcy through learning new skills and being part of the centre’s summer camp team, with a chance to find that balance of independence and safety in a supportive environment. Not only are the youth in the program finding respite from a world gone upside down, but so is this year’s program coordinator, Hannah Gold-Apel, whose regular camp in Quebec was cancelled this summer because of the pandemic.

Ross Creek’s Executive Director Chris O’Neill understands that this story is repeated worldwide, but says she feels lucky to be able to provide a space for talented youth to come together and make their own contributions to the next generation through the Leadership Program. “While Hannah was sad not to be able to spend her last camp year with her home camp, we are so lucky to have her bring her knowledge to our program and our community this year.”

O’Neill is clearly proud of the program that has grown from a handful of young people a year over ten years ago into its full capacity this year. The concept hasn’t changed since its beginning, giving young people a chance to learn new skills in a variety of arenas and encouraging their artistic development in whatever discipline they choose – but she is excited about how much more the centre can offer the teens. “We are able to give more youth more opportunities to learn from a highly-trained staff, whether in the workshops, the garden, or the kitchen, all while encouraging personal and educational growth.”

O’Neill says the program has roots in similar programs in other camps, but she believes the diverse nature of Ross Creek means that kids get to try things that might not go together in other settings. “We were seeing lots of university students coming for summer jobs with no skills to take care of themselves. We decided the leadership program could give arts camp leadership skills along with real-world survival skills like cooking, growing food, first aid, and even how to build simple things, all while emphasizing safety and creativity.”

She says that this year, new funding from the Telus Friendly Future Foundation is making a big difference. “We have been able to bring in new mentors this year, including Mi’kmaq teacher and performer Trevor Gould, who spoke with the teens about Mi’kmaq history, ways to integrate Mi’kmaq knowledge into the Ross Creek camps, and the importance of antiracism.” She says that their training also includes specialists speaking about camp topics like working with kids with autism and first aid training, which gives these young people extraordinary knowledge at a young age, which they can then put into practice right away.

The teens go from short-term volunteering to moving through the program’s levels for at least two years, in some cases moving into paid positions when they finish. O’Neill says an obvious example of a success story of the program is Ian Funke-McKay, a former Ross Creek Youth Leader who went on to study art at NSCAD and is now the Centre’s full-time programming director, who is now in turn, mentoring the youth leaders. “Having someone who understands the possibilities of the program and sees the potential of the youth so fully is amazing.”

This year’s group of youth leaders, from all across Nova Scotia, and Ontario, are especially exciting to O’Neill, even though they are at the beginning of their journey. “In a time of so much uncertainty, they and their families committed to this program and this experience, and they have grabbed the opportunity with such good spirits, it is inspiring and humbling.” O’Neill says that they commit to spend at least one, and often many summers at Ross Creek, becoming de facto big brothers and big sisters to younger campers, learning to grow the food for camp, assisting in the kitchen, keeping the centre clean and safe, and creating magic and memories through the rec program.

O’Neill says she is never sure who is most impacted by the program, because as she puts it, “We give them new knowledge, skills, and opportunities, and they give us hope for the future.”

Camps are still taking registrations for this summer at Ross Creek. For any information on programs at Ross Creek, visit our website at, give us a call at 902-582-3842, or email

Photo, left to right: Samara Whitelaw, Kay Murgatroyd, Roza Zalot, Juliana Sepe, Andrew (Andy) Waite, Max (Alfie) Gros, Jacob Hazelwood, Maya Vaz-Gibson, Ruby Gill, Avery Crowe, Marah LaForge, Hannah Gold-Apel (Youth Leadership Director and Camp Co-Director), Max Miller, Lilith Richter-Stephenson (Counselor), Claire Embanks (Counselor), Zach MacDonald (Counselor), Felix Belanger, Jonah McKay (Counselor), Eva Adamson (Special Projects). Missing from photo: Carmen Gessel, Jassem Ammar

Photo by Camp Director Eamonn Schwartz