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10 years of success tackling high school dropout rates

Concordia graduate Gabriel Bran Lopez launched a small pilot project in 2008, and 10 years on, Youth Fusion is present in over 250 schools, having served 30,000 youth.
December 19, 2018
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By Molly Hamilton

Ten years ago, Gabriel Bran Lopez, BA 08, saw a problem he was in a position to fix: school dropout rates among at-risk youth. Bran Lopez understood their preoccupations because he used to be considered at-risk himself. He came to Canada from conflict-ridden Guatemala with his parents in the 1980s when he was just three years old and lived in one of Montreal’s poorest areas.

Gabriel Bran Lopez, BA 08 Gabriel Bran Lopez got the idea for Youth Fusion after speaking to high school students in Montreal and across Quebec as a guest speaker. | Photo: Courtesy of Youth Fusion

Thanks to a supportive teacher, Bran Lopez took on an active role in student life and excelled, landing in Concordia’s Department of Communication Studies.

It was during his time at the university that Bran Lopez was invited to share his experiences with students at 12 low-performing high schools as a guest speaker. “I talked about growing up in a rough neighbourhood, how I made it to university, what made me persevere and really pursue post-secondary education,” he says.

Following his presentations, Bran Lopez would always ask students what kind of school programs would help keep them motivated. Their answer: fewer guest speakers like him and more hands-on, year-long projects.

Fast forward a decade and his award-winning organization Youth Fusion provides these kids with just that – innovative and meaningful educational projects that contribute to their learning, qualifications and social integration. Think everything from theatre and opera programs to robotics, video game creation and environmental design. By providing them with these type of activities, Youth Fusion hopes they can encourage more kids to stay in school.

Concordia connection

When Bran Lopez first had the idea for Youth Fusion, he approached Concordia to help get the project off the ground.

“Concordia is an essential piece in all of this. Without Concordia there would have been no CEED [Community, Empowerment, Education and Development] funding and no office,” says Bran Lopez. “There also would have been no direct access to people like the chancellor, the president and other senior administrators, who all played key roles.”

Former Concordia chancellor L. Jacques Ménard, BComm 67, LLD 06, took a particular interest in Youth Fusion. “He [Ménard] heard of me through the Concordia network and asked if we could meet,” says Bran Lopez.

Today Ménard is on Youth Fusion’s board of directors as honorary president, after having been chairman for nine years. “From the beginning, I truly believed in Youth Fusion and its mission to encourage young students to stay in school by setting up projects that motivate, stimulate and engage them,” he says.

John Parisella, BA 67, and Arvind Ramanathan, BComm 01, also sit on Youth Fusion’s board, while many Concordia alumni work at the charity.

Marilou Cyr-Fournier, MA 13 Marilou Cyr-Fournier she is the senior director of operations at Youth Fusion. | Photo: Courtesy of Youth Fusion

Marilou Cyr-Fournier, MA 13, first heard about Youth Fusion through Concordia’s job portal. While studying film at the university, she had undertaken two internships in film education and really liked the space. When she saw that Youth Fusion was looking for a project coordinator to give cinema workshops to at-risk youth, she jumped at the chance. Eight years later, she is their senior director of operations.

“After all these years, it's wonderful to see our students find their way, develop their passions and come back to us, telling us that the projects we've implemented in their school have fundamentally changed their lives,” says Cyr-Fournier.

10-year plan

Today Youth Fusion is present in over 250 elementary and high schools, has worked with more than 30,000 young students and has created over 1,500 jobs for youth.

Despite Youth Fusion’s success, Bran Lopez isn’t sitting on his laurels.  “Our goal is to keep innovating,” he says. Last summer, for instance, Youth Fusion launched an artificial intelligence project. “The kids get to create, be immersed in and discover the world of AI in a concrete way.”

Looking forward to the next 10 years, Bran Lopez and his team want to create even more opportunities for young people. “Youth Fusion started as a way to counter dropout rates but it’s become this project where we also develop the employability of at-risk youth,” he says.

He’s also set his sights beyond Canada’s borders and there are plans in the works to open an international office in the near future.



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