“So which tour stop are you most exci–”
“TORONTO.” I told Maya a few months ago without missing a beat, following up with why it might just be my favorite city in the world …don’t tell NYC. I associate Toronto with many wonderful things (Timbits and poutine notwithstanding), but above all: kindness, magic, and memories.
Before joining Team Born This Way Foundation, I worked as a performer on Disney Cruise Line. Their casts live and rehearse in Toronto before embarking the ships, and while those two months are mostly spent fine tuning the stage shows, this period is incredibly bonding for the casts who most of the time are brand new to the city and each other. Each contract I did, I flew in knowing virtually no one and left with some of the deepest friendships I still cherish today.
I hadn’t been back in nearly 5 years, which is why when we began planning our work alongside Lady Gaga’s The Chromatica Ball Summer Stadium Tour, I jumped at the opportunity to indulge in some nostalgia and introduce the team to the city. For this stop, we planned a visit to Jack.org, our Canadian friends who partnered with us to build the Be There Certificate. Our organizations have known each other for over two years across email chains and Zoom windows only – until now. They planned an epic welcome party for us at their offices alongside our new friends at Big Brothers Big Sisters Canada (BBBS).
Since neither Maya, Alex, nor Josh H. had been to Toronto, I had the honor of giving them the grand tour of my old haunts and favorite treats the night before our meeting – including the best tacos and ice cream. One of my favorite acts of kindness is introducing people I love to places that mean something to me. We went to bed buzzing from both sugar and anticipation of meeting our friends in person for the first time.
The following morning, Jack.org and BBBS greeted us with smiles, music, Be There Certificate photo opps, and the warmest welcome of all…quiche! The morning was filled with joyous embraces and celebration with friends from behind the screens.
We were overjoyed to learn that as of that day, over 8,000 Be There Certificates had been completed since the launch last March, and Big Brothers Big Sisters Canada committed to sharing the certificate with their agencies. (Big Brothers Big Sisters America has also pledged to share with over 10,000 people in their network!) We’re so honored to have the support of these leading youth mentorship organizations.
I finally met Sadia, who I had the honor of doing an Instagram Live with over a year ago. During that time she was one of Jack.org’s youth ambassadors, but now she’s on staff full time and helping to produce inspiring content. We’re real life friends now, and I’m so proud to have learned more about her journey! I also met a mentee from BBBS, and seconds after our handshake, we connected about being led to our respective work by a similar experience: the often isolating journey we felt in coming out at a young age, both of us at 17. We bonded over our shared hope that one day all LGBTQ+ youth, no matter where they are in the world, could have mentorship, community, and access to resources.
Josh H. and I concluded the morning welcome party with a live debut of the Be There Certificate theme song, and we spent the rest of the day in meetings celebrating the Be There Certificate and dreaming about its future. The gratitude was palpable throughout the day, and I was touched by the continuous kindness and thoughtfulness we were shown. During one of our afternoon meetings, my day was nearly derailed when my flight home that evening was canceled, and I couldn’t find another one. Without missing a beat, Shane from Jack.org introduced me to a smaller airport (I had no idea it existed!) where I found a direct flight back! That small, kind suggestion saved the day.
When I finally boarded my flight that evening, I reflected on how I had even more Toronto memories to be nostalgic for now. Once again, Toronto gave the gift of bonding with special people, and I couldn’t be more grateful to our friends at Jack.org and BBBS for hosting such a wonderful day. Though I couldn’t stay for our co-founder’s show this time, I could feel the kindness emanating from the streets of Toronto in preparation for the Ball.
I hope you’ll join me in celebrating our friends at Jack.org by checking out the Be There Certificate to learn more about how you can gain the knowledge, skills, and confidence needed to safely support anyone who may be struggling with their mental health. Following a survey, those who have taken the course have said that the Be There Certificate “was an easy-to-use, straightforward and interactive way to further strengthen the ways I can be there for my loved ones” and 98% of learners feel better able to safely support someone who is struggling with their mental health.
And if you’re tuning in from Canada, I hope you’ll also check out even more of their awesome programming like Jack Talks – mental health presentations delivered by young people to young people. On their site, you can book a Jack Talk, apply to become a Talks speaker, and more. You can also bring their work to your community by finding a Chapter in your area! Jack Chapters are groups of young people working year-round to identify and dismantle barriers to positive mental health in their communities. Young advocates can start chapters at high schools, post-secondary campuses, or anywhere else that youth gather. I also encourage you to learn more about our friends at Big Brothers Big Sisters Canada and their incredible youth mentoring programs across the country!
Thank you so much for reading about our time in the magical Toronto, and stay posted for more stories of kindness and connection from Chromatica!