Alumni Inspired to "Open Doors"

Michael Jakac-Sinclair '16 and Mahtab Gill '16 have teamed up and started an initiative called Open Doors BC Educational Awareness Society which aims to support high school students with learning challenges as they transition to post-secondary institutions in the Lower Mainland.
Claire Corlett '17, Alumni Association Executive member, touched base with Mahtab and Michael, to learn more about what they've been up to since graduating from SJS.

Claire: Tell me about yourselves

Michael: We are proud SJS alumni who graduated in 2016. We’re now third year students. Mahtab is at the University of British Columbia, and I’m at Carleton University studying Political Sciences. I will also be going on exchange this year to the Netherlands.
What inspired you to start this initiative?

Michael: I have been Dyslexic all my life and have run into many educational challenges along the way. At a young age I realised the stigma that came with dyslexia; where my class mates and my teachers didn’t quite understand where I was coming from. At my University in Ontario, I’ve seen accessibility and experiential resources available there that I haven’t seen in B.C. Mahtab and I want to build this type of frame work in British Columbia.
Mahtab: Michael’s journey to overcome some of the challenges as a student inspired me as a close friend to raise awareness on various learning disabilities whilst coming up with creative ways students can be supported. Along with this, I believe awareness must be raised in communities which have limited amounts of knowledge on what learning disabilities are and how they can be diagnosed, including immigrant families. 

What are some of the major challenges that students with learning disabilities face?

Mahtab: Both Michael and I recognize the fact that not all students have equal opportunity in pursuing their dreams beyond secondary school. Like any other hurdle, learning disabilities may act as a road block in achieving a dream but can certainly be overcome. There is, however, a stigma about individuals with learning disabilities which come with a lot of misconceptions.

Michael: I’ve heard of some parents that were sacrificing food on the table for their child to have a proper education, and subsequently having to resort to the food bank. This is unacceptable. No family should have to choose between food or a proper education. Therefore, we realised, for individuals who have a disability, there are not just a social barriers but financial also.

Anything exciting happening in the next year for you and/or “Open Doors”?

Michael: I’ll be doing an Open Doors documentary in the Netherlands where I will be traveling to Scandinavian countries to create awareness about their revolutionary individualised education system.

We will be holding our second annual ‘Hoop to Learn’ basketball tournament in August at the Richmond Oval to raise money for accessible learning for individuals with learning disabilities. The event last year was a huge success. 

What do you want our community to know about your initiative?

Mahtab: We want the community to know that more work needs to be done to raise awareness on the stigma behind learning disabilities/challenges. We would encourage alumni members to become more educated on this topic. 
How can people get involved in your cause?

Michael and Mahtab: People can get involved by following us through social media and by participating in various events we hold throughout the year.
  • Follow us on Instagram and Facebook in order to be up-to-date with our progress and volunteering at our future events:
    • Insta: opendoorsinitiative
    • FB: OpendoorsEAinitiative
    • Donate! Donations go towards helping schools and individuals acquire the right resources/accommodations and can be made on our website
    • Get in touch with us if you know of anyone in learning disabilities who needs support or would like to be featured on our website. We also love engaging people in our cause through speaking opportunities or volunteerism. Email us for more information!