Scholarship Inception

The Zach Sutherland and Kaya Firth Resiliency Scholarship was founded by both families to recognize and support resiliency in youth who have faced adversity in their lives.  It became very clear very early that the impact of tragedy and grief on Kaya and Zach’s four brothers and close friends was unique and profound, and finding a way to support their own inner resilience became our collective mission.  Understanding that we had no fix and could not take away their pain or our own, we surrounded them with unconditional love and trusted in their ability to heal from within.  Their incredible bravery, courage and willingness to feel their way through the pain lit the way for their and our own healing to begin.

The scholarship is unique in that there are no criteria related to grades or financial need, but rather is structured to fund post-secondary education at any level for youth who have been able to see a future for themselves past their grief.  It is our hope that by providing recognition and a platform to share and learn from their stories of resilience, there will be a ripple effect of helping more young people find their path through grief to healing.

It is important to us that this not be viewed as a competition of who has endured the most adversity in their young lives. We respect that everyone has different life events that are considered adversities and we focused on how they manage their very personal tragedies.  We learned from our applicants and ongoing communication with them the power of telling their own story in their own words, including and highlighting the material most relevant to them and more importantly taking the perspective of reflecting on their own growth.  They tapped into their creativity, sharing with us videos, creative writing, poetry and incredibly raw and honest accounts of their personal journeys.  We remain committed to maintaining confidentiality and honouring the relationship of trust entered into when these courageous young people shared their stories, thoughts and emotional experiences with us.

It was immensely difficult for us to select an individual, as all of the youth demonstrated resiliency and every story was unique, involving completely different experiences.  We also never once, nor will we ever, refer to our selected recipient as a “winner”.  It really is not that type of competitive scholarship.  Our recipient is representative of elements of resiliency found in each and every story submitted.  We purposely refrained from establishing any objective criteria to allow for the unique circumstances and stories of resiliency to emerge.

cropped-celtic-cross-sqWe chose this celtic symbol to represent the scholarship and qualities from which it is growing.  It symbolizes strength, family, resilience and friendship.

Our inaugural scholarship recipient, Nathan Williams, embodies a deep sense of meaning and purpose in his own life and a genuine desire to help and support others.  This represents a common thread through all of our submissions.  Our Honourary Scholarship Recipient, Emily Matin, has found her healing through creativity and sharing her story through writing and is dedicated to giving back to her community. This is exactly the resilient spirit we want to encourage and is what Zach and Kaya’s friends Callum and Ryan Biehn have done in organizing a charity golf day as a way to support the scholarship and enable friends to gather and share memories of Zach and Kaya.

The overwhelming positive response from the community surrounding our initiative shows us that they also want to embrace the opportunity to support its youth through difficult life situations and losses and to encourage resilience.  This not only helps to validate our purpose but supports the need for it to grow.