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Q&A with Mathieu Chantelois: Toronto Journalist Turned Non-Profit Executive

Mathieu Chantelois may be most recognized for his role in the Canadian reality television show The Lofters which followed the lives of eight Canadians in their 20s who lived together in a Toronto loft for one year.  He’s also been a successful journalist, magazine editor, and marketing executive.  Today, Mathieu Chantelois is dedicated to shouting Boys and Girls Club praises from the rooftops as the Vice President of Marketing and Development of the organization’s Canadian branch. 

What influenced you to change your career from an award-winning journalist to a non-profit executive who advocates for children and youth?

Mathieu Chantelois: I had an ‘aha’ moment the day I turned 40. I was sitting at work and I realized that I was getting a little too comfortable in my very privileged position. I felt like 40 was not too late to start fresh and try to make a difference. It was scary, but necessary. I have no regrets.

You believe every young person should be able to dream big and have the same opportunities to realize those dreams.  Describe how you are helping to turn those dreams into reality for kids through your work at Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada.

Mathieu Chantelois: I’m surrounded by the best people in the nonprofit sector. We work really hard to increase the profile of Boys and Girls Clubs, while raising money to support the Clubs and being strong advocates for children and youth. We open doors at the national level so that our Clubs can continue to change lives at the local level. That is the real strength of our Clubs—the over 6,000 caring, trained, trustworthy youth development professionals who mentor kids and teens every day in more than 700 communities across the country.

You’re advocacy work has taken you to Parliament Hill.  In your opinion, what are some of the important issues that need to be addressed regarding Canadian children and youth?

Mathieu Chantelois: So much work still need to be done. One out of five kids leaves school every day with no place to go. They risk being unsupervised, unguided, and unsafe. We need a national after-school strategy that makes sure young people have a safe, supportive environment where they can find everything they need to succeed—and especially those that need it the most. We have to work harder at fighting poverty, food insecurity, homelessness, graduation rates, gender gaps, and systematic discrimination. A long-term investment in young people will always pay off.

You’ve noted that 69 percent of alumni say Boys and Girls Club saved their lives.  What would you say to those youth who are struggling?  How can Boys and Girls Club help?

Mathieu Chantelois: These words are very powerful. 69 percent of the people say that the Club saved their lives. Not changed their life, but saved. I’m taken aback every time I hear it. I would say to youth who are struggling that Boys and Girls Clubs open their doors to everyone—no one is turned away. If a young person needs it, our Clubs provide it. Physical activity, homework help, mental health support, leadership training, scholarships, mentoring—the list goes on. Join the Club!

Kid Food Nation: the cookbook won the award for best non-profit publication, a book you helped publish.  How does the book’s award-winning recipes reflect Canada’s cultural diversity?

Mathieu Chantelois: Kid Food Nation is a national food skills initiative, designed for kids aged 7-12 years, which aims to help improve Canadians’ culinary skills and knowledge and encourage healthy eating habits. Once a year, our Kid Food Nation annual recipe contest asks kids to submit healthy, original recipes that represent their culture or their Canadian pride. The 26 winners, representing every province and territory, celebrate with their families at a gala event and have their recipes featured in a professional cookbook that includes food preparation and cooking techniques, information on healthy eating, and a bio and photo of each winner. And the recipes truly celebrate the power and beauty of our diversity: from a Baked Arctic Char from Iqaluit to a Jamaican Chicken Soup from Toronto to a Garlic Moose Melt from Newfoundland & Labrador, the cookbook is an exhibition of Canada’s cultural mosaic.

What are some of the ways people can help the Boys and Girls Club to continue to fulfill their mission?

Mathieu Chantelois: Visit a Boys and Girls Club in your community! Learn more about what we’re doing to prove every kid has what it takes. Then, please donate or volunteers with us. You can learn more at bgccan.com

Lastly, describe a memorable moment that changed your life forever.

Mathieu Chantelois: Fifteen years ago, the Ontario Court of Appeal said “yes” to same-sex marriage, granting me the right to marry the man I love. That changed everything. Like most homosexuals, I grew up in a heterosexual family. I imagined that one day I would have a family of my own based on love, one of the values my parents had instilled in me. But in my teens, I had to give up on that dream when I realized I was gay. I would never be able to marry, never be able to replicate the loving family structure in which I had grown up. The realization came as a shock. It seemed unthinkable that I would be able to marry one day. And then on June 10, 2003, Iove won over legislation. My partner and I were among the first same-sex couples to have a wedding ceremony at Toronto City Hall. Without fanfare, we walked down a small, uninviting hallway to wait for the wedding chambers to open. The ceremony took a few minutes. Ever the gentleman, I let my groom sign the register first. And with the stroke of a pen, he became my husband. The clerk was embarrassed and apologetic as she wrote my name on the remaining line, under ‘wife.’ It was almost funny. And it didn’t matter at all—I was married. Outside, the wedding procession was not as joyful. Protesters, including busloads of Americans, were waiting to chant slogans at us. Clutching Bibles and flags, they linked my marriage with shame and sin. There were children with them, chanting along. None of it bore any resemblance to the applause and confetti that usually greets newlyweds. I left under a hail of insults, shaken but standing tall. Sad, but overflowing with joy. I was focused on one thing—the man of my dreams, whom I’d just married.

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