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Frederick Dryden is a man on a mission. This past October, Dryden ran 696km from Ottawa to his hometown of Hamilton - stopping in various communities along the way to speak about the importance of intervention and mentorship in the lives of at-risk youth.

Originally from Jamaica, Dryden and his family immigrated to Ontario when he was 11 years old. As a teenager, he experienced firsthand the life-changing benefits of mentorship and wanted to give other young people the same experience. In 2004, he started the charity Liberty for Youth to do just that. Since then, the organization has changed the lives of hundreds of young people in Hamilton, and Dryden has been lauded for his work as one of Canada’s Top 40 Under 40.

Dryden explained his passion for helping youth and the reasons behind his amazing run:

Q: Why do you feel so passionately about helping youth?

Dryden: My teenage years were really tough, and when I was in Grade 9, I almost dropped out of school. But one of my teachers said that he would give me breakfast and help me with homework if I came in early a couple of mornings a week. I showed up for the food originally, but, by the end of the semester, I had a 75% average.

After him, there were other people who intervened and made a difference in my life. A police officer once sat me down and encouraged me to make better decisions and later a youth pastor helped me as well. From these people, I learned the importance of encouraging, mentoring, and empowering youth. Without them, I could have had a totally different life and so my mission now is to give back.

Q: What does Liberty for Youth do to support young people?

Dryden: We run programs for at-risk youth – kids who have been suspended from school or are incarcerated, on probation or doing drugs. We provide things like after-school programs, sporting activities, education programs, weekly tutoring, and strong mentorship. For those that graduate our programs, we also provide a three-year scholarship to the college of their own choice.

Q: What difference have you seen in the lives of young people in your program?

Dryden: Overall, we’ve helped over 500 at-risk youth transform their lives. We’ve given over $80,000 in scholarship to first-generation college students. One young man who I met at a detention centre, graduated high school with honours and went on to study Aviation at Conestoga College. We’ve recently given a scholarship to a young woman to go to Mohawk College to study Photography. No one in her family has ever gone to college.

Q: How did you get the idea for your run?

Dryden: Over the years, we’ve experienced funding cuts and we had to close down our youth centre and turn some high-risk youth away. The youth we turned away didn’t have anywhere to go and one was stabbed in 2013 and one was shot in 2015. When two youths lose their lives because they are under-served, that is too many. So, I decided to honour their lives with this run.

Q: When did the run take place and how did it go?

Dryden: We launched the run on October 14th at Parliament Hill in Ottawa with representatives from the Ottawa Senators and RBC and MP Bob Bratina as MP. We had twelve mayors who participated in different cities that we stopped in along the way and we also stopped at 27 RBC branches along the way. I got to speak in schools, youth detention centres and mental health facilities. We even had a roundtable meeting with politicians, police and government officials where we talked about the importance of creating employment for at-risk youth to address gang issues and the high youth unemployment rate. It was an amazing experience. Our goal is to raise $650,000 over three years and to date we’ve raised $394,000. RBC gave us a generous donation of $75,000.

Q: How can people support your work?

Dryden: One way people can support our work is to log on to Run With Frederick and make a donation. People can also host their own fundraising events like a dress-down day at work, or they can run with me at various events to raise funds. They can connect with us on social media and help us create awareness, or they can volunteer for our programs.