This student's community work on food sustainability helped win a $70K scholarship

Leah Casey is a high school student in Holy Heart school in CBS. Her passion for community work around food and nature sustainability won her the TD scholarship for community leadership. (Submitted by Leah Casey - image credit)
Leah Casey is a high school student in Holy Heart school in CBS. Her passion for community work around food and nature sustainability won her the TD scholarship for community leadership. (Submitted by Leah Casey - image credit)
Leah Casey is a high school student in Holy Heart school in CBS. Her passion for community work around food and nature sustainability won her the TD scholarship for community leadership.
Leah Casey is a high school student in Holy Heart school in CBS. Her passion for community work around food and nature sustainability won her the TD scholarship for community leadership.

Leah Casey is a student at Holy Spirit High School in Conception Bay South, and has been an activist on climate change. (Submitted by Leah Casey)

A teenager who has been pitching in with a community garden in Conception Bay South and is linking that work to broader issues of food insecurity and climate change has won a major scholarship.

Leah Casey, who will soon graduate from Holy Spirit High School in Conception Bay South, is one of 20 recipients from across the country of the $70,000 TD scholarship for community leadership.

"I'm really passionate about sustainability and food insecurity issues," Casey said in an interview for CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show.

"I work with a lot of community groups that are kind of tackling that."

Casey describes herself as an everyday teenager, with friends, family and worries about exams in her final school year.

Casey spends a lot of time with the C.B.S. community gardens committee. In a sub-committee for one garden, she serves as the youth engagement lead, striving to encourage young people to participate in gardening, composting and sustainability efforts.

She's also on the board of directors for Chamberlains Park, helping to preserve green spaces in the community like trails.

Casey does all of that while keeping up the studies of a full-time high school student.

"It's a lot of juggling. I have a very set-out schedule," she said.

Casey is one of two people from Newfoundland and Labrador to win the prize this year. The other winner, Kasey Budgell, attends Valmont Academy in King's Point.

'A way to take action'

Casey's biggest motivator is her anxiety about climate change issues, affecting both the world at large and the province specifically.

"I wanted to find a way to take action and kind of take control back a little bit and feel like I was doing something."

Leah Casey says she volunteers for CBS community garden committee and the Chamberlains Park board of directors. She says she has been volunteering for a couple of years.
Leah Casey says she volunteers for CBS community garden committee and the Chamberlains Park board of directors. She says she has been volunteering for a couple of years.

Leah Casey volunteers for the C.B.S. community garden committee and the Chamberlains Park board of directors. (Submitted by Leah Casey)

This attitude of "doing something about meaningful issues" is exactly what Jane Thompson, executive director of the Toronto-based scholarship program, said she seeks.

"We're looking for people who see problems and don't think, 'Gee, somebody should do something about that.' They look at a problem and think, 'I'm the person,'" Thompson said.

The scholarship is given out every year, with 2024 bringing in as many as 3,000 applications. From that number, 20 exceptional students are selected.

Great grades are not enough to determine a scholarship. More important is a dedication to bettering their local community.

Thompson says they all share a blend of confidence and humility, and knowing to ask for help.

Casey said she is interested in studying environmental science or going into social work once she graduates from high school this year. The scholarship is meant to fund up to $10,000 for each year of a post-secondary degree.

There are two main goals to this plan, Thompson said, not only to help students invest in their education but also to provide them with a network of people who are doing community-oriented work.

"We're absolutely wanting to develop each and every one of these folks in their own way with education," Thompson said.

"But we also know that that's going to be a good thing for Canada."

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