Shay Surujnarain’s Cam’s Kids’ involvement is a testament to the life-changing power of a chance encounter.
About six years ago, while watching a soccer game in her hometown of Uxbridge, Ontario, Shay was approached by a stranger. What she heard from Linda Hicks intrigued her, inspiring her to follow up and become one of the first Cam’s Kids Ambassadors at Uxbridge Secondary School (USS).
“I gave her my contact information, we texted and that’s what really started the ball rolling,” recalls Shay.
“It was Linda’s kindness and the softness of her voice that made me feel comforted by the idea of joining the Cam’s Kids team.”
At USS, Cam’s brother Mitch Hicks and many of his friends formed the nucleus of that initial team, ensuring students were aware there are resources available to help with their anxiety and feelings of being overwhelmed or stressed.
For Shay, high school graduation seemingly spelled an end to her Cam’s Kids involvement, but then upon enrolling at Trent University in Peterborough, she was greeted by a very pleasant surprise – the university had an established and very active Cam’s Kids team.
“I needed to ground myself during my first year (of university) but I rejoined the team in my second year. They had a full-fledged team, which was wonderful to see. They were doing the same chocolate heart-giving initiatives (done at USS) and were running podcasts.”
“In my third year, I was elected vice-president of my college (Otonabee College). I was able to bring Cam’s Kids forward, running workshops with them and having them out for cabinet events, which was awesome because it brought more exposure to the Foundation.”
The Trent Cam’s Kids team countered the challenges put forth by the COVID pandemic by maintaining, and increasing, its social media presence with a particular reliance on Instagram to connect with students. At least once a month, members of the team get together for a check-in, done via Zoom since the pandemic began.
“Everyone experiences anxiety,” Shay readily admits to her own struggle “managing my anxiousness and finding my balance. I don’t want to say I’ve mastered that but I definitely have a way better handle on it now.”
As for her best advice for anyone similarly struggling, Shay leans heavily on the direction given to her a long time ago – “Step outside of your body. I know that sounds so weird but take five minutes and assess yourself from the outside.”
“I come off as very put together and organized. I am but I still experience those moments too. I’ve had people I didn’t expect to come up to me and ask for help. Being able to help and understand others is something I’m still working on. We need to remind ourselves to be empathetic and be aware that the other person is dealing with something.”
Shay says the prospect of leaving Cam’s Kids behind is very sad as she enters the final year of her Gender and Social Justice Studies, eventually graduating with a Bachelor of Honours in 2022. Nonetheless, she pledges to “take it (the Cam’s Kids experience) with me, whether that’s in my future career or with my friends and family. I hope I can still help out. It’s been a big part of my life.”
In the meantime, she plans to continue to exemplify the very definition of a Cam’s Kids Ambassador.
“My (Otonabee College) principal asked ‘What’s Cam’s Kids’ and I was like ‘Oh, let me tell you,’” laughs Shay.
“It’s awesome to tell people that Cam’s Kids is literally everywhere in almost every school you can think of. I’m so happy and honoured to be part of a team that supports students in so many schools. No matter what gender, age or race you are, Cam’s Kids is there for you, providing free resources that are accessible to anyone and everyone. You’ll see Cam’s Kids on campus, or you might see them in your hometown or find them on social media. It’s a community of people who will always be there for you when you need them most.”