Recipient of the Inspirational Leaders Award
March 2011

Brooke Young


Early in her social work career, Brooke Young has already been singled out as one to watch. She is the Director of Quality Assurance and Information Technology and the OK2BME Program Coordinator at K-W Counselling Services in Kitchener. She is being recognized by OASW as an Inspirational Leader and was interviewed during National Social Work Week which is celebrated March 7-13, 2011, under the theme: "Social Workers Are There For You"

As OK2BME Program Coordinator, Brooke Young provides in Waterloo Region overall coordination, strategic planning and program evaluation for LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning) youth services; delivers individual and group therapy to LGBTQ youth and families; and facilitates public education and training sessions. She has taken a pilot project first launched in 2005 and catapulted it into the multi-dimensional and highly visible, vibrant and valued program it is today in the K-W community. With her exceptional IT and website design skills and background, she has developed a dynamic website for this program:

One of Brooke's recent projects was the LGBTQ OutLoud video project, which led to a training DVD for the Waterloo Region District School Board. She explained that the aim of the project was to evoke emotion and to get people thinking: "It was a very humbling experience to hear the courageous journeys of so many people. The video project became an entity of its own, illustrating the power of a story to shift thoughts and minds, and providing a phenomenal way to get people to consider the impact of language on the lives of LGBTQ youth." She noted that the video has been designed by module, which made the greatest use of all the interview footage.

A very important concept for Brooke Young's work with LGBTQ youth is self-determination: "It is crucial to support their right to make choices in their life". Her work also celebrates diversity: "I love teens' diversity - their hair, their music, their gender expression. It is diversity that makes society so rich. Teens inspire me - to support their personalities in all their variety in shining through is really an honour." Among her initiatives has been the support of Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) in schools, offering support and advocacy to create safe space in schools. In addition to co-creating a GSA Network, she oversaw the creation of Waterloo Region's first GSA Conference. She is currently working on expanding the program to Grades 7 and 8.

Brooke spoke of challenges early in her career: "One challenge was homophobia. I was very clearly different in thoughts, in beliefs, in visual presentation. But it was also a tremendous growth opportunity for me; I could use it to make change happen. Whenever I got frustrated, I moved it into action - this is what kept me going. For me, challenges have been tied to action that turns them into a positive." In 2009, she was the recipient of the tri-Pride Outstanding LGBTQ Community Leader Award and was featured in Waterloo Region's "Top 40 under 40" in the Kitchener-Waterloo Record.

Brooke singled out seeing LGBTQ youth happy and thriving as her single biggest achievement in her current position: "I couldn't ask for more than youth feeling safe, welcome and appreciated. Finding community is so important. It is an honour to be a social worker in a program that can be a safe place. Seeing them involved in activism is inspiring." She expressed two fervent wishes: "I wish for our society to celebrate difference and diversity, instead of just tolerating it. And I wish that the youth and families that we serve feel so safe and represented that they no longer need our services."

It was Brooke's initiative to organize the first Pride Prom for Kitchener-Waterloo youth, now in its 4th year and one of only a handful across Ontario: "It's a safe place and a great night of fun. They can be themselves." She also had the idea to give youth a voice through a variety of mediums including a photojournalism project, which provided teens with skills and the opportunity to tell a story; the project received remarkable feedback and is being replicated in other places.

Proud to be a social worker, Brooke Young reflected on her previous work as a Child Protection Worker on the Intake Team of the Huron-Perth Children's Aid Society: "I met people at a time of crisis.  My role really embodied the theme of social workers being there for you - my role was to support families and focus on their skills, not to break them up." She said that she has always found inspiration in children and teens: "Little people have a special place in my heart - that they are safe and loved and happy drives me." She also counts a number of key people who have motivated her over the years: "My inspirations have been people who have the ability to evoke passion and excitement in others. They sparked something in me to discover. Leaders are able to take knowledge, expertise, and community involvement and bring about positive change." Many would use those words to describe Brooke herself.

Brooke Young is an inspirational leader in the social work community - engaging, optimistic and innovative. During Social Work Week, March 7-13, 2011, and throughout the year, take the time to acknowledge social workers who make a difference.