Mike Zouhri

Top 40 Under 40 2009

Photography 3TEN

Age: 23

Job Title: Humanitarian and community advocate

Why He’s a Top 40: For diving right in and removing potential obstacles when it comes to organizing major fundraisers for grassroots causes

Few university students consciously choose to fill the tight gaps between midterms, finals and assignments with huge amounts of volunteer work. But as Mike Zouhri wove his way through an undergraduate science degree at the University of Alberta, this is exactly the path he chose. Oh, yes, and he managed to make the dean’s list, too.

While Zouhri was studying neurology, he decided to apply his education at the university’s Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) clinic. He enjoyed working there but learned quickly that what he really wanted was a more intimate involvement with people coping with ALS.

“Working at the ALS clinic was my first realization of death. I would go into the office and read a patient file and realize, hey, this gentleman is going to die. ALS became very real to me then,” says Zouhri. “It wasn’t just a disease in a textbook anymore.”

So he decided to create and run Action ALS – and there has been no looking back. At the group’s first large event, he worked with major companies such as WestJet to raise money and increase awareness of this neurological disease.

“I think people just need to dive right in; you can figure things out along the way. I figure that if someone else has done it before, then I can do it, too. I try not to have mental inhibitions.”

As his organization has picked up steam, other non-profits have taken notice and recruited him to help with their campaigns. In addition to Action ALS, Zouhri works with the Youth Restorative Action Project, which helps young people in trouble with the law. It’s run by people under the age of 24. “Youth are placed with us and we learn about them, have them fulfil individualized mandates and, if they succeed, they avoid getting a criminal record.”

Zouhri also works with the Student Umbrella for Social Justice, which brings the presidents and directors of various groups together to share information and plan major collaborative fundraisers. He also volunteers with Campus UNICEF.

Despite his young age, Zouhri has been inducted into Alberta’s Wall of Fame. Only 54 others have achieved this recognition, and most are much older than this recent graduate.

“My family always taught me to give back. Since I’ve been a student, I can’t give money,” he laughs. “But I can give some time.”

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