The R.I.S.E. To The Top

Tell us about your not for profit/organisation. What is it about?

In 2018 I founded the R.I.S.E Initiative to help foster resilience among at-risk youth through creating a culture of health and wellness. The initiative consists of health and wellness-based education, interactive workshops, and storytelling. Through these workshops, youths learn the fundamentals of nutrition, exercise, wellness tips and strategies to incorporate into their lives. In the nutrition workshop, participants learn how to implement a lifestyle of healthy, balanced eating while managing a busy life and financial constraints. In the fitness workshop, participants learn the importance of exercise to overall health and how to incorporate exercise and fitness into their everyday lives. Lastly, in the wellness workshop participants learn strategies to reduce stress and increase self-care while implementing positive thinking to increase goals.

What is the change that you would like to bring to society?

In Toronto, we are facing a homeless crisis, and it’s the most vulnerable that suffers the most significant loss in our society. In particular at-risk youth are more likely to suffer from homelessness, drug use, physical violence, and precarious employment. Once a youth becomes homeless, their likelihood of graduating high school is reduced, and they become easy prey to those who want to lure them into drugs, sex trafficking, gangs, and other unhealthy lifestyles. Once involved, youth may find it challenging, or impossible to turn their lives around no matter how hard they try. To break the cycle of destructive behaviour, The R.I.S.E. Initiative focuses on establishing a safe space where youth can learn ways to enhance their health and wellness while teaching strategies to strengthen resilience, increase emotional intelligence, promote self- care and well-being. This paves the way for transition into adulthood and reintegration into the community successfully.

What drove you to start this?

Like many of the youth I work with, I too was once homelessness and considered an at-risk youth. I had a difficult childhood and suffered from bouts of depression, anxiety and low self esteem. Hoping to escape my problems, I left home and ended up homeless in the streets of downtown Toronto. I experienced poverty, threats of violence and sexual exploitation. It was only through the birth of my daughter as a teenager that I found the strength to return to school to complete my GED and then went on to earn an Honours Bachelor of Science Health Administration. After earning my undergraduate degree, I began working as a healthcare analyst while completing a Master of Science in Health Informatics. I have since gone on to start my own business as a personal trainer and nutrition coach all well raising my daughter as a single mother. I have faced many challenges throughout my life but I credit my strength and resilience in helping me not to merely survive but thrive in the face of adversity. Through the  R.I.S.E Initiative I hope to impart the lessons and strategies I learned to help other at-risk youth to overcome their personal challenges and see their true potential.

What drives you to continue to strive for more?

Since launching the R.I.S.E Initiative, I have had the opportunity to meet so many amazing people who work within the non-profit space, and who have generously provided me with their guidance and support. The R.I.S.E Initiative is still in the early stages of growth and development, and that is why I have taken the opportunity to elicit feedback from participants. Specifically, based on participant survey feedback, I incorporated more group activities to make our workshops a more interactive experience. I'm grateful for all the advice and suggestion I have received so far and hope to continue to engage with the community to provide the best possible experience for at-risk youth.

How do you think being a woman of colour has impacted your journey?

As someone who was born in St.Vincent and the Grenadines and adopted as a child to a white family, being a woman of colour has undoubtedly impacted my journey. Growing up in a homogeneous community, I stood out among my white family, often garnering stares and second looks when we went out. I was fortunate enough to make a few close friends throughout my elementary years, but I still endured constant bullying which often resulted in me having to defend myself from my tormentors physically. Growing up, I knew my parents didn't see colour when they looked at their youngest daughter, however, the outside world was cruel, unforgiving and made sure I knew that I was the "Other." When I left home and began socializing with people who looked like me, I was disappointed to discover that I didn't feel accepted among them either. I was teased for the way I spoke and called an oreo (black on the outside and white on the inside). Part of my journey of self-discovery was to learn to love myself for who I'm and appreciate my uniqueness. Understanding that I'm a mix of my Caribbean heritage but also the Canadian community in which I was raised.

To find out more about R.I.S.E go to www.rhonellebruder.com

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