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Youth making a change: Meet Burnaby Beacon’s 20 Under 20

Meet your 20 Under 20, Burnaby!

In September, we put out a call for nominations for our inaugural Burnaby Beacon 20 Under 20 list. Our goal was to spotlight young Burnaby residents making a change. We were overwhelmed with the incredible nominations we received and we’re excited to share the full Burnaby Beacon 20 Under 20 list with you all.

Congratulations to these inspiring, young changemakers; you’re making Burnaby proud!

Gabriel Piano

20 under 20

Gabriel Piano,16, was nominated by Melissa Chua for his community work in Burnaby and across the Lower Mainland. Piano began volunteering at age 12 with the Covenant House and has had a passion for volunteering since then. In 2020, amidst the pandemic, Piano committed over 300 hours to working with the Youth Educators and Leaders Program and obtained a $2,000 grant to fund a myriad of community projects focused on helping youth in need. Most recently, he co-founded his own not-for-profit organization called Youth for You Y4Y Society to empower youth through leadership and community service.

Lilah Williamson

20 under 20

Lilah Williamson was nominated by Peter Cech for her volunteer work dedicated to environmental activism. At 15, she was one of the organizers of the 2019 climate march in Vancouver. She’s been involved in several committees and councils at her high school—Ecole Alpha Secondary. She was a recipient of the City of Burnaby’s 2021 Environmental Awards for her outstanding commitment to climate activism through public engagement and awareness. She is currently a coordinator with Sustainabiliteens.

The Boomerang Club

20 under 20

The Boomerang Club, nominated by Bonnie Ishii of the Burnaby School District, is a group of students from Confederation Park Elementary who lead with kindness. Over the past year, these students have organized food drives, a blanket drive that collected winter gear for those in need, and have written cards of encouragement for frontline workers during the COVID pandemic, among many other initiatives. “They are a very special group of students who are finding their voice and leading with kindness,” said Ishii.

Kimi Chua

20 under 20

Kimi Chua was nominated by the staff at the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society of Canada and her former principal at St.Francis de Sales School. Chua has been involved with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society since 2014 and has managed to raise over $8,400 for the organization through her fundraising efforts, which include craft sales, selling pins, and Krispy Kreme donuts. At school, Kimi has participated in several groups and clubs including the Readers are Leaders program, and she and her peers also created a school newspaper. She is part of the Y4Y Mentorship Society, a mentorship group run by teens for youth, including elementary school-aged children.

Laef Kucheran

20 under 20

Laef Kucheran is a 20-year-old web designer and aspiring journalist. He’s also the founder of VoteMate.org, a website that makes researching who to vote for an easy experience. In a previous interview with the Beacon, Kucheran said he wants VoteMate to help folks form a better understanding of the world. “I want to make news, and politics, and a single, shared narrative not just easily accessible, but something everyone can understand and keep up with, without feeling overwhelmed or anxious,” he said.

Linh Nguyen

20 under 20

Linh Nguyen was nominated by Bryan Dunse, a teacher at Burnaby Central Secondary School. Nguyen, who is in grade 12, started and became the president of the school’s marketing club, where she oversees 30 members in charge of the school’s store. When she found out a small local bubble tea shop shut down in the neighbourhood, she was inspired to use her passion for marketing to help local businesses grow their brands. She founded student-led non-profit marketing agency Connect Media YVR, which is operated by Central students. The team helps small businesses by providing marketing services such as social media management, website development, and advertisement creation, completely free of charge.

Keyaan Vegdani

20 under 20

Keyaan Vegdani was nominated by his principal Andy Chin at Cariboo Hill Secondary. During the pandemic, the 12th grader has written and illustrated four books including two on Canadian history, one about his own journey with Crohn’s disease, and one focusing on his passion for electronics. Vegdani is donating a percentage of each purchase of his book, My Crohn’s Bucket, to Crohn’s and Colitis Canada. Aside from writing, Vegdani has also created teaching videos for elementary school kids and a program to get signed student cards to seniors.

Ryan Chiu

20 under 20

Ryan Chiu was nominated by Burnaby North Secondary School teacher Elizabeth Byrne. Chiu wears many hats at Burnaby North. He holds a leadership position with the district Youth COVID Response Team. He also participates in student leadership and student government, and is described by Byrne as a “lead/ mentor [and] point person” for many school activities. Chiu is also a martial arts master and teacher.

Lori Kullahian

20 under 20

Lori Kullahian was nominated by Burnaby North Secondary School teacher Elizabeth Byrne. Kullahian is a very busy 11th grader who manages to balance many school and extracurricular activities. She’s involved in a leadership role with the Youth Covid Response Team. She is a youth group leader at her church, participates in choir, and is a national piano competitor and piano teacher. She’s also a passionate social justice activist. Byrne says Kullahian is “thriving” with her current academic course load and she’s already taking courses at SFU.

Cole Sheehan-Klassen 

Cole Sheehan-Klassen, 18, was nominated by Bryan Gidinski, a district sexual orientation and gender identity support teacher. Gidinski describes Sheehan-Klassen as a student “who has done a tremendous amount of leadership work to support LGBTQ2+ youth and build wider understanding.” He has continuously been a voice of support and advocacy for the youth LGBTQ2+ community in Burnaby and beyond.

Jillian Castillo

20 under 20

Jillian Castillo was nominated by Mylene Lee. Castillo, 17, attends St Thomas More Collegiate. At school, she’s been part of chamber choir since eighth grade and was appointed administrative assistant of the STMC Chancellor Music Festival for her leadership abilities. In 2020, she was chosen to take part in the Levra Foundation’s Young Educators and Leadership Program in partnership with Western Community College. In 2021 she co-founded the Y4Y Youth Mentorship Society, which works to empower youth through community service.


20 under 20

Pages2Places is a volunteer group started by Burnaby Central international student Alvia Troung. The group works to send English books to students in Vietnam. According to a previous interview with the Beacon, Troung said Pages2Places is looking to expand to at least 3 more schools in the Lower Mainland this year. She adds that the organization is seeking monetary donations and a delivery sponsor to donate books to Vietnam as soon as possible.

Luka Kovacic

20 under 20

Luka Kovacic (12) was nominated by Alan James for his work with the Stoney Creek Environmental Society. He’s a budding videographer and has his own YouTube channel with an environmental theme called Luka’s World Adventures. You may have also read about Kovacic in the Beacon for the work he’s done to protect Stoney Creek and the fish and wildlife that live there.

Yura Schlegel 

Yura Schlegel is a grade 12 student at Burnaby Mountain Secondary. This past summer, she was chosen to participate and represent the Burnaby Fire Department at Camp Ignite, which gives young women a mentorship and personal and professional development opportunity to learn from other female firefighters in the field. She was nominated for the program by her school’s career education advisor, Cynthia Gingras. “Yura is a dedicated honour roll student who is hardworking, kind, courteous and respectful. She is optimistic and is always ready to assist those around her,” said Gingras. “Given the skills and qualities that she demonstrates, I have every confidence that Yura will find success as a firefighter or any career dedicated to the service of others.”

Lindsay Hoffman

20 under 20

Lindsay Hoffman was nominated by Tracy Arron, Burnaby Mountain counsellor and teacher sponsor of the student wellness council, and school vice-principal Deena Lewis. They recognized Hoffman for her “tireless passion and commitment for mental health” as the past vice-president and now current president of the BMSS wellness council. “Along with her council members, Lindsay has coordinated school-wide activities and events to promote mental health literacy and wellness, as well as created a Grade 8 mentorship program to support the successful transition of our new Grade 8s to secondary. Her leadership and enthusiasm inspires us all!” stated Arron and Lewis.

Scott Mallinson

20 under 20

Scott Mallinson is a grade 11 student at Alpha Secondary School. “I am disabled and I am passionate about disability advocacy,” Mallinson told the Beacon. He is a volunteer with the Canadian Deafblind Association and is a board member and youth advisor. He is also a speaker at information sessions for parents and guardians with deaf preschool children. During the pandemic, he wrote a short story for his cousin. The story, titled A Bee’s Journey, became a published book that is now available in stores and at public libraries. “I hope to change non-disabled people’s minds about disability,” he said. “I like me, I like being disabled, and I don’t want to change.”

Kobe Louis

20 under 20

Kobe Louis was nominated by Frances Bolton, youth engagement worker, and Deirdre Moore, Indigenous success teacher, at Ecole Moscrop Secondary School. Louis is an active Indigenous student leader at Moscrop. The 10th grader is passionate about sharing Indigenous history and traditions. For National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, he worked with his entire class to build an orange paper chain with 100 rings symbolizing moving forward together. Louis’s teachers describe his humble, compassionate nature as an inspiration to students and staff to become better people. In his spare time, Louis enjoys learning his St’át’imc language and traditional ways. He also recently stopped cutting his hair to honour his ancestors who were forced to cut their hair in residential schools.

Liv Meerkerk

20 under 20

Liv Meerkerk was nominated by Gena Sanderson, Indigenous youth worker, and James Morton, vice-principal at Burnaby South Secondary and sponsor of the school’s student anti-racism committee. Sanderson and Morton describe Meerkerk as a “courageous Indigenous female Grade 12 student… who understands the power and importance of student voice.” As one of the founding members of the student anti-racism committee, she helped facilitate and lead a student presentation on a teacher Pro-D day where she openly shared her story to help teachers understand more about cultural humility. She is a natural leader who volunteers at local summer camps and her church’s youth worship.

Sam Gao

20 under 20

17-year-old Burnaby resident Sam Gao was nominated by YouthToSea Program Specialist Ethan Wong. Gao is described as a “very well-spoken and driven young individual” who demonstrates strong leadership skills as a member of YouthToSea, an initiative of Ocean Wise that brings together youth in the Lower Mainland to empower them to make a difference towards ocean conservation. Currently, Gao takes part in a service project called Schooling Fish, which seeks to inspire and advocate for ocean-conservation literacy in the BC school curriculum. He is also part of the IUCN youth delegation at YouthToSea and co-founded WreckedEarth99, an eco-friendly streetwear company.

James Thom

20 under 20

14-year-old Burnaby resident James Thom is spreading joy to seniors by setting up monthly Zoom meetings to celebrate their birthdays—and sing to them. Thom is a student at the University Transition Program out of UBC and founder of Your Birthday Singers. Thom said he was inspired by his neighbour, who had to be separated from his wife because of complications with illness. Hearing about his neighbour’s situation made him want to try and give back to the community. “The aim of this project was to sing Happy Birthday to seniors every single month, just to reciprocate all the care that was given to us by them,” he said. From there, Thom began reaching out to long term care homes in Metro Vancouver, to people at Willingdon Church, where he attends, and to grandparents of his scout troop. He said he’s received a lot of support from people in his life to carry out the project, including from Burnaby Mayor Mike Hurley. He told the Beacon in a previous interview that he hopes others hearing about the project inspires them to give back in whatever way they can.

And there’s more!

Our 20 Under 20 nominations kept rolling in. Here are more incredible youth we wanted to highlight:

Ervin Cadiz and Mehar Sahota

20 under 20
20 under 20

Ervin Cadiz and Mehar Sahota are both Grade 12 students nominated by Bal Dhillon, Byrne Creek Secondary’s community school coordinator. Cadiz and Sahota are co-founders and co-leaders of the Byrne Creek Student Union. The Student Union is an extension of the Community School Team and its purpose is to provide a student voice in the community. Dhillon describes Cadiz and Sahota as exceptional students who model what community building and service mean.

William Li

20 under 20

William Li, 17, is a student at Burnaby North Secondary School. He was nominated by Eugene Fei. Here’s what Fei had to say about Li’s exemplary leadership: “William has made significant strides not only in the school community as president of the student body and president of multiple clubs (Model United Nations, school newspaper editor-in-chief) but also major achievements at the national and international level. William recently received the 4th Grand Prize at the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair as a part of Team Canada. His work on Ascidians and microplastics has the potential to provide solutions for microplastic pollution in the ocean. William has also received first prizes at the national and provincial level science fairs. Academically, William is recognized for having exemplary grades while also maintaining participation and leadership in extracurricular activities.”

Sarah Lennon

Sarah Lennon attends Burnaby Mountain Secondary School. She was nominated by Jyoti Panesar and Itzia Vriend. Here’s what they had to say about Lennon: “Sarah …has already become an active member and ally to social justice issues that she is passionate and knowledgeable about. Sarah’s diverse Afro-Canadian heritage and the various places where she has lived, including England and Ontario, help her to make connections with many people. As the student co-chair for the Indigenous Learning Committee, Sarah understood the importance of centering and highlighting Indigenous voices as integral to key decision-making in this Committee. She organized and led activities for National Day for Truth and Reconciliation/Orange Shirt Day and Truth and Reconciliation Week alongside Student Council. Sarah is currently organizing an event for Latinx History Week so more representation and diversity is spotlighted within the school, which she feels is additionally importance for students who self-identify as Latinx and/or Hispanic.”

Kazune Eugene Fei

Kazune Eugene Fei,17, was nominated by Emre Erhan. Fei is a Grade 12 student at Burnaby North Secondary. Here’s what Ehran had to say about Fei: “I have mentored Kazune for two years. He first reached out to me due to his curiosity in the fields of genomics and bioinformatics. I am very impressed with his intellect, inquisitive spirit, and hard work to understand these fields beyond a typical high-school level. He is currently conducting a research project with the U.S. National Parks Service in order to help conserve the black abalone, which lives all along the West Coast of North America. Over the past two years, he has juggled 4 university courses and rigorous high school courses while representing Burnaby in prestigious research programs and contributing to the local community.”

Joanne Ying

Joanne Ying was nominated by Davy Chiu. Ying is part of the Junior Achievements BC Company Program (CP), an after-school program where students are exposed to business through the creation of a real company selling products within a team. She also co-founded WreckedEarth99, a company that produces sustainably sourced apparel with their custom designs that brings attention to climate change. “She has incredible drive and passion to bring meaningful results that others naturally gravitate to and want follow her lead,” said Chiu.

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