With his Toronto youth program Dare to be Different; Motivational speaker, youth worker and entrepreneur Bernard Laryea remembers a time when he felt there was something missing in his life. The Ghanian-born immigrant describes it as “a passion that was burning inside him,” but was “trapped.” It was his desire to give back and inspire others in his new country.
Laryea, who came to Canada in 2005 at the age of 14, and later studied at Seneca College in Toronto to become a chemical lab technician, says this passion was awoken after the death of his parents. Laryea explains that his mom worked three jobs in Ghana to support her children and extended family, but even though she was struggling, she always seemed to have something to give. “She used to say, you don’t need to have a billion dollars to help people in need. Support your family and share the rest with others in need and give while you’re going through your struggles,” he says.
Losing his mom inspired Laryea to follow in her footsteps, and started to look for opportunities to help others.
Looking for opportunities to give back to his community; He became a member of Creating Global Citizens (CGC), starting as a participant and taking part in various leadership training activities, fundraising and even travelling back to Ghana to work with schools and community groups.
He was also one of the members who started a young men’s program at Rathburn Area Youth Community Centre to help support young people with cooking and life skills programming.
In 2013, Laryea co-founded Young Entrepreneurs in Toronto, an organization that helps youth develop entrepreneurial skills. The purpose of the group is to connect young, aspiring entrepreneurs in the GTA with business owners in the community. Once a month, 60 to 100 young people across Toronto gather to share their stories and interact with entrepreneurs in their local community. “Entrepreneurs come to speak about their businesses, to share their ups and downs, and what it takes to be an entrepreneur,” says Laryea. The one rule at the meetings is that no idea is a stupid one. “Any ideas can make a great business case with the right support and the right mentorship attached to it,” says Laryea.
Through his work with youth in his community, Laryea was troubled by something. He would often hear youth blaming their misfortunes on others. “They were blaming things on the government or their parents, saying oh, the MPP isn’t doing this or that. They were waiting for something to happen in their community, waiting for someone to say we have funds for you. And there was a lot of pointing fingers,” he says. Laryea was reminded of something his late father used to tell him. “When you point one finger at someone, two of them point back at you,” he says.
Mentorship program to empower youth
In 2016, Laryea started the non-profit organization Dare to Be Different, a mentorship program to empower youth in marginalized communities to change their mindset and improve their situation. “If you want things to change for you, your mindset has to change,” says Laryea. Through mentorship and networking opportunities, Dare to Be Different encourages youth to adopt a positive mindset, to surround themselves with people who support their dreams and encourage them to live their best lives. “If you hang out with nine broken people, eventually you become the 10th one,” says Laryea.
What started as a six-month program is now a two-year program mentoring 15 youth, all funded by Laryea himself. Youth are paired with a mentor and have one-on-one sessions where they talk about the positive changes they want to make in their life — finding a job, starting a business or finding access to resources to help them live their best lives. Sometimes the goals are as simple as opening a savings account at a bank. “With each goal that is accomplished, it brings a sense of purpose,” says Laryea.
Laryea says his purpose is fulfilled when he sees youth coming through the program become independent thinkers, leaders and role models for others. “The goal is that the way the youth came in will not be the same way they leave the program. They will see things from a different perspective.”