Frowns were turned upside down on Stephen Avenue Saturday as dozens of youth volunteers marched through downtown Calgary to spread messages of joy and encouragement.
About 50 people, between the ages of 12 and 18, waved signs bearing compliments such as “you’re beautiful” and “have a nice day,” which garnered supportive honks from passing vehicles and brought smiles to shoppers and brunch-goers along the 8 Ave. walkway.
The teens are members of Youth Central, which is part of the Youth Volunteer Corps, an international youth service organization with programs across Canada and the United States.
Groups in each municipality were tasked with coming up with a special event for the annual Get Happy Project Saturday to bring happiness to locals in their community.
And in Calgary, volunteers chose to march from city hall and up and down Stephen Avenue with smiles, laughter and messages of encouragement, in hopes of making spirits rise in the wake of the economic downturn.
“This was our way of bringing happiness to the city,” said Sylvia Galica, outreach co-ordinator with Youth Central.
“We’ve done the Get Happy Project numerous times around the city. This is the biggest one we’ve done.”
Steering committee members Katja Lemermeyer and Sanchit Chopra, both 16, said they chose to gather along Stephen Avenue because it’s one of the busiest streets in Calgary.
“The cars on the road, they’re all honking, they’re all cheering with us. When they see the posters, there’s a smile on their faces. It’s really nice to see,” Chopra said.
“A lot of people have been taking photos and videos too,” Lemermeyer added.
During the year, the teens work with more than 100 organizations including the Salvation Army, Winsport, and agencies that support children and seniors.
Last year, volunteers put in 37,000 hours to help the community.
The Get Happy Project, however, is unique because it relies on the volunteers to come up with their own project, for which they are responsible for planning, co-ordinating, and coming up with their own materials.
Both Chopra and Lemermeyer say it’s important to foster a sense of volunteerism in Calgary’s youth.
“It’s about meeting new people, meeting new friends, and getting out into the community,” Chopra said.
“It creates a broader experience than just the extra-curricular programs you might have at your high school or through a sports program,” Lemermeyer said.
“You meet all sorts of people, all parts of Calgary, and it’s really about fostering a connection.”