For Aiden Lee, the Art from the Heart workshops he teaches are about much more than creativity. They’re about acceptance and kindness.

“I want to make sure everyone belongs. No matter what you look like — we all need to accept each other.”

It’s what made him the recipient of a YMCA Peace Medal during last year’s YMCA Community Breakfast for Peace.

“When I won the YMCA peace award last year, I was so happy! I told everyone in my speech I was going to reach 1,000 kids in my Art from the Heart workshops. Now it’s 800 and counting.

Art was something I started when I was four. I couldn’t speak until I was six, but at four, I realized I could throw my emotions on to a canvas rather than bottle them up. I started painting and it helped me express myself.

Last April, a teacher at my old school, Mrs. Boers, suggested I come in to teach art to her Grade 1 class. At first, I saw them doing crafts, but I wanted them to paint. Now I teach them to express themselves.

I also teach them about Autism. They ask me lots of questions and I talk to them about acceptance.

Last year I saw Gord Downie’s Secret Path and it really upset me to see how we have treated Indigenous People. It made me paint a black maple leaf to show a stain on our history. I hope through art I can show kids that the maple leaf is about inclusivity and mutual respect and that everyone has the right to belong.”

– Aiden

Did you know?

Project Autism runs a MOVE program at the Y several times a year, helping other children and youth like Aiden discover fun and fundamental movement in a place where everyone is accepted for who they are.

“The Y is not just about belonging, but accepting. The Y makes modifications for everyone. I feel like we belong here. It’s amazing to watch the older ones taking care of the younger ones. It creates community, a sense of belonging and everyone learns from each other. It’s community helping community.”