NEWS July 21st, 2008

By Karolyn Coorsh

Teen trustee is a fixer

Gerald Mak juggles his Palm Pilot and BlackBerry wherever he goes.

At meetings, he’s often working on two computers at the same time.

Your average Bay Street exec, right?

Wrong.

Mak, 18, may be one of the busiest teens in Toronto. And as the Toronto District School Board student trustee prepares to enter his post-secondary years in fall, this spring was all about recognizing his extracurricular efforts.

In April, Mak was the youngest winner at the Green Toronto awards, bestowed by Mayor David Miller. He also recently received the Ontario Medal for Young Volunteers.

The student has a volunteer resumé a mile long. He says it all started in his Willowdale Middle School years.

Mak credits Doug Thompson, his grade 7 substitute teacher, with inspiring him to pursue environmental issues.

“He was a teacher from another school and he mentioned how we had nothing green,” said Mak, sitting in his school board office in May. “We started by making new changes … like having recycling bins.”

Mak kicked his volunteerism into high gear when he entered grade 9 at Earl Haig. He revived the Eco Team, spearheaded funding for more trees on school grounds and eventually led Haig to an Ecoschool certification.

At 16 he began volunteering for the Toronto Police Service.

This past year, Mak turned down the opportunity to run for class president to work as one of two student school trustees.

The job thrust him into the often-gritty world of politics.

“I don’t know how these politicians get along with each other,” he said. “It’s insane. I can’t even get along with some of them.”

He holds his own with the seasoned trustees, though, Mak says, some of them don’t take his responsibilities seriously.

As a student trustee, Mak represents 250,000 students in 110 schools. He’s visited 30-odd this year alone, to help spruce up cafeterias, or get soap into washrooms.

“Students call me and they tell me their concerns and I (will) go to their school,” he says. “But I also bring the principal or staff with me to fix the problem.”

Crime Stoppers school officer Scott Mills has worked with Mak on several projects aimed at youth participation.

“He’s a perfect example of a dedicated student that educates himself and networks between his age group and adults,” Mills said.

With all he’s done, one might assume the teen is on a path to a career in politics.

Maybe one day, he says.

But he hasn’t given up his childhood dream of becoming a cop.

Mak is entering the information technology program at Ryerson University this fall. He hopes to combine an interest in computers with policing.

Mak’s lucky. He already knows his way around Palm Pilots and BlackBerrys.