First Up

Ampai Thammachack

Woman poses for a photo with her arms crossed in front on her

Photography by Wade Hudson

When Ampai Thammachack, Artsci’20 and MA’22, was 18, she founded a registered charity called Step Above Stigma that she runs in addition to her full-time job as a Program Manager at Prince’s Trust Canada, and part-time job as a professional dancer in Toronto. Step Above Stigma has now surpassed 1,000 volunteers, making an impact on more than 100,000 youth. With her team, she is working toward better mental health for Canadians, something she has always been passionate about. At just 17, she co-founded The Glass Slipper Organization, which donates prom attire to students in financial need. Additionally, she does public speaking on mental-health topics for clients such as Sun Life Global, RBC Global, and Scotiabank. As a result, she has been honoured as one of the Top 22 Under 22 Most Inspiring College Women in the World, a L’Oréal Paris Women of Worth, Canada’s Top 100 Black Women to Watch, Atlantic Canada’s Top 30 Under 30 Innovators, and a Princess Diana Award winner.

My first job was as a ballet teacher. Ever since I was three, I’ve been obsessed with ballet. I have danced my whole life and it’s still what makes me happiest. Dance has taught me so much about focus, discipline, teamwork, rhythm and dedication. Music fuels everything I do. I started ballet when I was three and danced at the National Ballet of Canada, which sparked my interest in health sciences, which I went on to study at Queen’s. 

When I was younger, I performed for eight years in the Nova Scotia Symphony’s The Nutcracker. At age 12, my neighbour saw the show and asked if I wanted to teach her talented gymnast daughter ballet to help with her artistic skill on beam and floor – to give her that performance-level “sparkle.”

Her coach at Taiso Gymnastics saw the impact of my training and asked me to teach all of his junior competitive gymnasts. I got paid $25 an hour, which was a huge deal to me as a 12-year-old. I coached dance until I left for university. I also waitressed all through university, which taught me so much patience, communication, small talk and personability that has helped me as a social entrepreneur. My first waitressing job was at my favourite pizza place, called On the Wedge, in Bedford, N.S. I have since served on 1000 Islands Cruises, at fine dining establishments and Boston Pizza. 

What I’ve done is all weirdly connected. It’s important to connect dots in places you might not even realize there’s a dot to connect – that has helped me get creative. The most important thing in developing my passion for mental health advocacy was my challenging experience in high school – depression and suicide ideation – which inspired me to pursue philanthropy and social entrepreneurship full time. I have my parents, my neighbour Margot, and Taiso Gymnastics to thank for giving me my first opportunity to be a leader.

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