Why She’s Top 40: Earning the trust of Edmonton’s most troubled youth. “I tell them I want them to pay taxes some day, because I need a pension.”
Key To Success: There were people around her who believed in and cared about her – now she’s doing the same for a new generation.
Mandy Halabi moves a pink inflatable flamingo off a chair in her office and admires the graffiti on her wall.
She commissioned it, in a way, from a 14-year-old boy who was working off some community service hours – for tagging.
“I’m a big fan of graffiti,” she says. It was her way of showing the teen his talent was something he could put to constructive use.
Halabi has spent more than a decade working with at-risk youth and is now a program manager with YouCan Youth Services. From her office beside Westmount Junior High School, she manages two programs that work directly with Edmonton’s troubled youth.
The first, Step Up and Step In, has expanded from three to eight Edmonton public schools over just two years. The program brings together victims and perpetrators of bullying and other youth violence.
The second, Relentless Youth Outreach, sends workers to hot-spots of youth crime and violence around Edmonton.
Halabi also runs peacemaking circles and recently facilitated the first one ever to involve high risk youth and Edmonton police.
She says teenagers are just “cool people” – they allow her to be herself, to goof off, while amazing her with their resilience.
Halabi grew up taking care of her four younger siblings in a family of immigrants from Lebanon. It was the struggle of growing up with two vastly different identities that made her realize her calling. The stringent expectations of her family clashed with her desire to be a regular Western Canadian teenager. But after getting in a fight in the ninth grade, her homeroom teacher inspired her to change her attitude.
“He said: ‘You have these leadership skills but it’s up to you whether you lead in a positive or negative way.”‘ That year, she won the school’s Responsible Citizen Award.
As a result, she identifies with teenagers of all kinds, including immigrant communities, such as the Somali and Sudanese, who are going through similar turmoil.
“There’s a way to have the best of both worlds. I tell them to stick to their guns, focus on school, keep talking to their parents. I really believe the more education they have, the better the transition into adulthood will be for them.”