#ImmigrationMatters in Windsor, Ontario

Originally from Eritrea, Mehari Hagos makes his living owning a gym but feels his true calling is helping Glengarry kids succeed.

Transforming teen lives in Windsor

Mehari Hagos (centre, white shirt) with MH100 participants

A recognized coach, motivator and personal trainer, Mehari Hagos is best known for working with the disadvantaged youth of Glengarry through his unique MH100 Teen Bootcamp. Glengarry is a low-income neighbourhood affected by drug-related violence.

The 100-day, after-school training program aims to help participants, not only to get fit, but also to fit into the community. For example, kids learn nutrition, financial literacy and the value of hard work.

Mehari also runs Kicks for Kids, a program that has donated more than 6,000 pairs of shoes to kids who need them.

“I remember my own situation, as a kid, when I needed new shoes, and my mother went to buy me some”, says Mehari. “I remember walking the hallways of school and hearing the ‘click, click, click’ of my new shoes. Mom had bought me baseball cleats. She didn’t know any better. This sort of thing is still happening at schools in my neighbourhood”.

Mehari’s drive to help kids is deeply motivated by his own experiences while growing up in Glengarry. Besides needing to adjust to life in Canada, he was often a witness to violence.

Changing young lives

“Mehari is my game-changer”, says 21-year-old Glengarry resident Michael Emaneel. “Before I met him, I wasn’t thinking about going to college or playing sports. Now, I’m a student at the University of Windsor. We see drugs and prostitution all around us, but he guides us to look beyond them”.

“I grew up looking for an escape from drug dealers and crime”, he says. “Everyone I looked up to was going to jail. Everything extra that you needed as a kid was not possible on welfare”.

Fortunately, Mehari eventually encountered a positive role model in Bonnie Bailey, an English-as-a-second-language instructor at the YMCA in downtown Windsor.

Now retired, Bonnie remembers Mehari as one of her best students. She eventually hired him as a fitness instructor, a role she recalls him excelling in, thanks to his aptitude for relating to and motivating others.

“He has a talent for hearing and seeing people and understanding what they need”, she says. “He has gone from being a 7-year-old boy I knew at the ‘Y’ to a pillar of the community”.

An authentic role model

“Mehari has taught me to work harder in school and sports”, says Fraston Mayen, 15. “We trust him to teach us what to avoid because he lived it himself. If he wasn’t around, more kids would be doing bad stuff. He focuses our energy on being better people”.

While Mehari originally hoped his training program would simply keep kids off the street, dozens have gone on to attend university on full academic or athletic scholarships. “We get them in with basketball, but we also teach them about life”, he says. “The way I look at it, I had an opportunity to come to Canada, and I better make it count and be the best that I can be”.

Ultimately, Mehari believes success depends on having someone in your life who sees your potential.

“I think we all need someone to believe in us, and Bonnie believed in me”, he says. “My goal is to be the Bonnie Bailey in my community for a new generation”.

Immigration profile: Windsor, Ontario (Census Metropolitan Area)

Quick facts:

  • Almost a quarter, 23%, of Windsor’s population are immigrants.
  • Iraq is the biggest source country of immigrants in Windsor, followed by the United States and Italy.
  • Slightly more than a third, 36%, of all immigrants who came to Windsor between 1980 and 2016 were refugees. Another 33% were economic immigrants, and 31% were sponsored by family.

Did you know?

  • Windsor is the fourth most ethnically diverse city in Canada, with more than 170 ethnicities represented and 70 languages spoken.

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