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Teenagers in Park

Taking a gap year is one of the best things a young person can do for themselves and their future – if they do it right.

And that is why we exist.

Canadian Gap Year Association (CanGap) is an inclusive non-profit organization supporting families and students in making purposeful post-secondary decisions. We do this by introducing and providing resources to support an alternative, experiential opportunity known as a gap year. 

Throughout a student’s gap year journey, we provide them a safe space to identify their life goals, develop and execute a plan of action, and work towards successfully transitioning into their next phase of life.

 

CanGap acts as the Gap Year Guidance Counselor our students are missing, while supporting educators in helping fill these gaps through our Gap Year Specialist program

 

We validate, certify, and celebrate the bold and courageous goals, actions and experiential learning of Gappers (gap year students) as they work to identify who they are, what their needs are, and how they want to show up in the world before committing to a post-secondary college or university program.

 

Whether you're a student considering a gap year, a parent concerned about how a gap year will impact your teen’s future, or an educator looking to further their knowledge of alternative pathways - we’ve got you covered.

Our Impact
Updated Fall 2023

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So, what is a gap year anyways?

 

A gap year is an intentional period of time spent away from formal education for a young person to get “real world” experience and understand who they are outside of a classroom. A gap year can be taken right after high school or in-between years of post-secondary studies.

 

Gap years aren’t just for students.  Adults of all ages take gap years (also known as sabbaticals) during times of burn out, transitions or whenever they need some time to reconnect with their personal values and rediscover their purpose.  

 

Rooted in experiential and skill-based learning, gap years allow students to work, volunteer, travel, focus on their physical and mental well-being, and engage in activities that support their passions and interests and help provide clarity for life’s next steps as they transition into young adulthood.

 

Our events, resources, and tools support them in making their “gap” impactful and a foundational pillar on which to build their future.

Why we do what we do

Well, let’s take a look at a few statistics on post-secondary readiness and student needs:

  • 18% of students did not feel prepared at all for higher education, while 40% felt moderately prepared (HEQCO for SEMM Forum 2021)

  • 94% of post-secondary students indicated their main cause of stress is their school work (Academica Forum, 2023 Student Wellness Survey 2023)

  • 33% of 17,000 post-secondary students surveyed took at least one year off after graduating high school before going into higher education (Brainstorm Strategy Group for SEMM Forum 2021)

  • 75% of gap year alum reported that a gap year contributed to their academic motivation (Gap Year Association)

 

Society has convinced us that success is a fast-paced, straight line and that we need to be on that same accelerated conveyor belt to achieve.

 

This has led to:

  • Increased mental health challenges and burn out

  • Confusion and self-doubt when life it not figured out by 17-years-old

  • Young adults choosing careers based solely on "prestige" and "earning potential" rather than factoring in interests and abilities

  • An increase in courses and "resume building" activities squeezing out other elements that are important to self-awareness and self-discovery

 

Having experienced a pandemic during some of the most formative years of life, young adults are experiencing all of the above while missing essential skills and life experience to navigate life.

 

The truth is: Everyone's path to a vibrant and successful future looks different. Most paths are not linear.

 

Life is rich because it is full of twists and turns. Making space for recovery and discovery sets young adults up for success more than racing into their future unprepared and unaligned.

Our commitment to diversity

As the world begins to pay attention in new and more intentional ways to a long-fought battle for equity, the Canadian Gap Year Association recognizes that Canada, like many other countries, has many systems that perpetuate racism. We acknowledge that CanGap has a role to play within the gap year movement and we commit to taking action. 

We recognize that while some gains will come quickly, systemic change is only possible with prolonged and consistent efforts on our part.  

While our role will continue to evolve as we engage more purposefully with racialized BIPOC, 2SLGBTQ+, neurodivergent and disables communities, the Canadian Gap Year Association commits to:​

  • Expanding our Board of Director team to better represent diverse perspectives in decision-making and guiding the direction of the Association.

  • Designing a fair and sustainable advisory council model that will empower diverse voices within the Canadian gap year community to address increasing equity and access to gap year activities,inequalities, and adjusting harmful gap year narratives and programming.

  • Work with qualified professionals to develop anti-racism, diversity and inclusion resources for gap year professionals and gappers.  We will begin with:

    • Staff training (internally and for gap year professionals across the field)

    • Suggested standards & self-evaluation tools for gap year programs

    • Resources for gappers who wish to focus on social justice issues on their gap year (such as our Impact Fellowship program)

    • Ongoing education for our partners and ourselves on anti-racism and allyship.

If you would like to be part of one of the above-mentioned initiatives, this sustained effort, or be involved in any way in addressing the systemic racial issues perpetuated by the gap year industry, we invite you to connect with us at info@cangap.ca. We can do more together.

How we continually support inclusivity

The complexity of identity can lead one on a lifelong journey to discover who and what they identify with and as. At CanGap, we offer an affirming and safe space for young people to put intention behind their goals, experiences, and accomplishments without fear of judgment, harm or exclusivity.


At the core of our organization is education. No one person or organization has all the answers, but as a community, we support one another in our unique journeys as individuals and as allies in working towards equality and social justice. This starts with treating each other with respect and honoring how we show up for ourselves and our diverse communities.

​If you are interested in taking our Anti-Oppression workshops as an aligned organization or interested partner organization, please email our team at info@cangap.ca

Meet your Gap Year Experts

Michelle Dittmer
President & Co-Founder

Recognizing that students were not being provided with enough opportunity to get hands-on experience to develop life skills, Michelle left the classroom to explore other ways of helping young people find direction and fulfilment. She worked to train other teachers, she instructed outdoor education, she traveled for pleasure and for work and researched what today’s youth really want and need.  

 

All of her life experience drove her to the same conclusion – we need to slow down and give young people the space and time to figure out who they are and to engage in meaningful experiences. 

 

Michelle founded the Canadian Gap Year Association as an antidote to business, mental health challenges and young adults feeling confused and unfulfilled.  She has committed her professional life to giving families permission to slow down so their kids can be the best version of themselves and make a healthy transition into adulthood.

Jazzmine Raine
Youth Engagement Manager and Project Coach

Jazzmine Raine leads from a background of over 10 years in project management, social impact, and experiential education. She is the proud founder of Hara House, India's first zero waste guesthouse and tourism organization, and has been recognized globally for her work in the sustainable tourism sector.

 

Her diverse career has spanned across multiple countries with a strategic focus on providing young people the tools and knowledge needed to solve global challenges. With a love for storytelling and leading social impact, she thrives when coaching students and young professionals in leading new, innovative ideas.

 

Jazzmine has been a key leader in many unique social projects such as Causeartist, Sustainable Travel Network, Studio.89 and Hara World. In her spare time, you will find her writing short stories and drinking chai on her balcony at 8000ft in the Himalayas.

Meet our Board of Directors

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Susan LaRosa

Susan is the former Director of Education of the York Catholic District School Board. In addition to being the Co-Chair of the Human Services Planning Board of York Region, she is Chair of Rose of Sharon, a service for young mothers.  She is also the  Senior Strategist with Education Research Development Inc. and a volunteer with WE Charity and Ontario Special Olympics. Susan has a B.A. from Ottawa University and a Masters of Education and Master of Business Administration from Queen’s University.

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Madelyn Steed

Madelyn has worked in higher education for close to a decade assisting students as they arrive, survive and thrive throughout their post-secondary experience.  Madelyn has a Masters of Education from the Ontario Institute for the Studies of Education in Adult Education and Community Development.  After her first semester at the University of Guelph, where she later completed her undergrad, Madelyn embarked on her own gap year and is passionate about guiding and supporting youth to take the same leap!  She is a proud Katimavik-alumni!

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Richard Wiggers

Richard is an educational leader with nearly 30 years of experience in the higher education sector in both New Brunswick and Ontario. In addition to prior service as both Associate Dean and Dean at different Ontario colleges, Richard has given numerous engaging presentations about educational and labour market pathways to a variety of high school and school board audiences across the province.

 

He was employed as Executive Director, Research, and Programs with the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO) from 2009-16, and prior to that he held numerous prior positions in other provincial and federal government departments and the private sector. He has also taught nearly 100 postsecondary courses throughout his career, including at the graduate level, and holds a doctorate from Georgetown University (where he also held institutional and SSHRC scholarships), a Masters degree from the University of Ottawa, and a Bachelor's degree from Carleton University.

Meet our CanGap Ambassadors

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Claire-Marie

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AJ

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Nazra

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Rina

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Hardeep

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Grace

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Anthony

How can you play a role in our work? 

Support equal access to gap year resources and tools that set young people up for success, regardless of financial barriers.

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