Hired by the Correctional Service after graduation, she focused on citizen engagement, working with families and communities affected by incarceration and the correctional system.
“There were a lot of issues around over-representation of certain groups, whether that be Indigenous or other people of colour, which remain issues today,” she says.
“So many equity-deserving groups in our society don’t get any say in creating policies, and the impact is not always positive for them.”
Before joining Jack.org, Pinto was chief program officer at UNICEF Canada, where, on both local and international levels, she addressed such crucial issues as child and youth well-being, vaccine equity and access to education.
She also spent much of her career in public-affairs roles at the Canadian Cancer Society, which included starting programs to engage young people on cancer prevention, detection and treatment.
“They were the voice missing in a lot of our public-policy advocacy at the time,” she says.
Changing the mental-health landscape
Pinto leads Jack.org at a vital moment for youth mental health in Canada.
The pandemic brought school closures, virtual learning, isolation and fewer gatherings with family and friends, which disproportionately impacted the well-being of young people.
“I’m a mother of three and watched my children struggle during the pandemic. While none of them got sick — which we were very grateful for — the pandemic really did affect every aspect of their lives,” she says.
“The youth mental-health issue, which was an issue even before the pandemic, has now just been exacerbated.”
Suicide is still the leading health-related cause of death for youth in Canada. One in seven report having suicidal thoughts, and many more stay silent. Pinto says one positive development is that more young people are becoming open to speaking about mental health. So far, Jack.org has reached more than 165,000 youth all over Canada through its support groups and events.
However, Pinto says not all communities in Canada are equally served when it comes to youth mental health — something she wants to change in her new role.
“I come from a community and a background where there’s still a lot of stigma around mental health,” she says.
“In my teenage years, I struggled quite a bit, but there was no outlet. There was no organization like Jack.org.”