The Trails Way: Changing the Lives of Vulnerable Youth


Photo © Courtesy of Trails Youth Initiatives

“It was never a matter of IF we would continue to support our youth through the global pandemic, but simply HOW we could do it best,” says Melissa Millward, President of Trails Youth Initiatives. “Our youth depend on Trails and, like a family, we are always there for them.”

The relevance of—and need for—Trails has never been greater. Trails’ mission is to challenge and equip vulnerable youth from at-risk areas of Toronto to become contributing community members.

Recognized as one of Maclean’s Best Canadian Charities in 2020 for their deep impact, Trails has changed the lives of over 500 participants in its 30-year history. A staggering 100 percent of Trails youth graduate high school, and currently, 41 students are pursuing post-secondary school, paid for by Trails.

Trails was built on the belief that all youth—and especially those facing barriers based on race, income, education level and the neighbourhood they grow up in—benefit from a long-term, consistent approach to engagement, one that uses experiential learning to teach leadership, resiliency, and conflict resolution, as well as physical and mental wellness.

“Before Trails I was insecure, unhappy and not confident. I was lonely because I didn’t have anyone to hang out with and the only fresh air I got was at the back of my house,” said Year 2 participant, Hazel, this summer. After her two weeks at Trails, she went on to say, “Thanks to Trails, I have made friends, become happier and more secure than ever.”

Photo © Courtesy of Trails Youth Initiatives
Photo © Courtesy of Trails Youth Initiatives
Photo © Courtesy of Trails Youth Initiatives

Entirely funded through private donations, youth come from the lowest income and highest risk areas in Toronto. The “Four Seasons, Four Years, For Life” program welcomes participants aged 12-16 to Trails’ 143-acre lakeside camp property with their group of 20 peers. For two weeks every summer and one weekend a month during the school year, for at least four years, they do activities like canoe trips, swimming, camping, hiking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, skating, and yoga.

Trails is often their only chance to change the trajectory of their lives. This is true for alumnus Collin Caleb who says, “Trails saved my life. I believe this with everything in me. Without Trails, I would be either dead or in jail.” Collin is a far cry from the troubled boy he once was, now managing a successful music studio.

What’s unique about Trails is that it doesn’t end with graduation. Trails wants their graduates to experience privilege by providing equal opportunities to education and professional connections. By deeply impacting one life at a time, Trails youth succeed, pay it forward, and lead by example so that they, as well as those they inspire, have a chance at a successful and meaningful future. This deep commitment to the success of its alumni includes initiatives such as a Leader-in-Training program, internships, AIM (Alumni in Mentorship), the Trails Danielle Dion Bursary for post-secondary education, and networking opportunities with the Trails’ Board of Directors, Governors, and donors.

To learn more or donate to change the lives of Toronto’s most vulnerable youth, visit

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Trails Youth Initiative’s mission is to challenge, equip and empower vulnerable youth from at-risk areas to become contributing members of the community. The “Four Seasons, Four Years, For Life” outdoor program builds confidence through skill development, high school credits, bursaries and mentorship.


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