By Debra Downey, Senior Editor
Alexandra MacLean has turned the dream of Open Minds into a reality.
The germ of an idea blossomed after years of ruthless bullying and has grown into something amazing that is making a tremendous difference in the lives of teens attending Westdale Secondary School.
“Watching the dream become a reality has been a life-changing moment,” said Alexandra. “If you step back from where we were a year ago, to where we are now, everyone is truly open minded and positive, and it’s just so wonderful.”
Just over a year ago, Alexandra wrote an essay that examined genocide and crimes against humanity. It prompted the 16-year-old to think about how people recover from trauma. The answer she came up with was conversation.
The Open Minds group now meets at lunch every day at Westdale, and “advocates” provide a positive, open space for a absolutely anyone who needs a friend
Since its humble beginnings with only a couple of teachers and Alexandra's best friend involved, the group has grown to 20 young people who have received training in empathetic listening, mental health and safeTalk suicide awareness.
Alexandra and her Open Minds peer support network recently earned a YMCA Peace Medal. The medals — awarded annually to recognize people who foster a culture of peace and tolerance in their community and around the world — were handed out last month at the 25th annual YMCA Peace Medal Breakfast at the Hamilton Convention Centre.
Alexandra shares the honour in the youth division with Heather Wild, who is also 16 years old and taking steps to halt bullying.
Alexandra said when it was announced she would share the medal, she was “just completely overwhelmed with joy.”
“It’s nice being recognized and nice to know your work is appreciated,” said Alexandra. “But I would keep doing what I’m doing, even without the recognition.”
Along with being someone to talk to, Alexandra and her advocates have planned awareness events focusing on peace, anti-bullying and mental health.
According to her nominators, Alexandra has demonstrated that when you are truly passionate about something, it can be achieved with courage, hard work and persistence.
“Alexandra is an excellent role model for not only her peers but younger students who feel her excitement and passion in fulfilling her vision to provide support for Westdale students,” state her nomination papers.
Alexandra said through her work with Open Minds, she, herself, is finally starting to recover from years of bullying.
“It (the bullying) haunts me even still, but I find helping other people helps me heal, taking a bad thing and making it a positive,” said Alexandra
After she graduates, Alexandra plans to study health sciences with an eventual goal of becoming a pediatrician.