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we day

The We movement, created by Craig Kielburger, left, and his brother, Marc, has been around for 20 years, with We Day a fixture for 10 of those.Hannah Yoon/The Canadian Press

Legend has it that Mahatma Gandhi advised people to "be the change," but in schools and communities across the country, young Canadians have added a twist: We the change.

The We movement, and the We Days that celebrate it, have grown from modest beginnings in 1995, when a dozen Grade 7 students came together because they wanted to create change. They cared about international issues such as the exploitation of child labour, and they wanted to do more than just give money – they wanted to make a difference.

What a difference.

Today, the We movement is a juggernaut for positive change, fuelled by youth across Canada and now reaches out to families to engage even more people in the idea of practical community service that brings results.

"When we started 20 years ago, Canadian youth were the least likely to volunteer. Today they're the most likely to volunteer," says Craig Kielburger, co-founder, with his brother Marc, of the We Movement and its related organizations.

The We movement is celebrating its milestones by moving forward. It has had two decades of success, and the We Days that will fill stadiums in nine cities across Canada will be the 10th annual celebrations of that success.

Now, with Canada's 150th birthday coming up, the movement wants to reach not only the young people who make it work and the communities and causes it benefits.

It's also looking to engage families, so Canada's youth can make common cause with their parents.

"Our research shows that we have these young people, and they're very involved and passionate and they go home with this passion. When you look at the most critical influencers in their lives, it's their parents," Mr. Kielburger says.

"So when all these kids return home after We Day, we want to lift the secret veil and let parents see what's going on and how they can help channel that energy."

The programs are not just to enthuse volunteers and help communities; they're deliberately designed to bring bigger change.

"There has been a culture shift. Schools are putting service into their classrooms," Mr. Kielburger says. It can be as simple as having students test drinking water quality in their science class, or offering support for Canadian troops returning home as part of history, or greeting newly arrived refugees as part of social studies.

The movement's We Schools program involves about 10,000 schools across Canada, with 81 per cent of educators saying that it makes their students more likely to do something to improve life in the community.

We's research finds that youth in We Schools are seven times more likely to see themselves as agents of change, and two-thirds of educators say the program makes their students more likely to inspire others.

The movement continues to evolve to do even more than achieve its original mission, which was to help youth find meaningful ways to be involved in their communities.

"It's great to pick up garbage, and we should still do it, but there's so much more that young people can do, too," Mr. Kielburger says.

We's programs are already known for the positive impact they have on communities. Through We, in 20 years Canadians have raised $79-million for more than 6,500 local and global organizations.

Young people have put in 27.6 million hours for local and global causes and have collected nearly five million tonnes of food.

To reach families this year, We Family events will be held in the evening after the daytime We Day celebrations. It's the kickoff to the coming release of new resources that We will provide online "to help families engage in service," Mr. Kielburger says.

"They range from 150 actions you can do to benefit Canada during its 150th birthday year, to tips for the holidays for service to family service trips that will let people go overseas together to volunteer."

While the movement is growing ever more sophisticated as it evolves – a brand update if you will – it's still based on a simple idea, Mr. Kielburger says.

"The world has a lot of walls going up. We're challenging people to take a pledge – the We Pledge. They can do it online – to commit to doing good." The organization will follow up by matching those who take the pledge to possible volunteer work.

Mr. Kielburger says a generous benefactor has also agreed to donate $10 to We for everyone who takes the pledge online.

The ultimate goal is ambitious as We evolves, grows and celebrates both its own milestones and Canada's big birthday next year – to build a society "where every young person in Canada engages in service," Mr. Kielburger says.

"When people look to Canada 150 years from now, they'll celebrate that part of what it means to be Canadian is to serve your community and your country," Mr. Kielburger says.

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