The Orillia Youth Centre awarded Grade 12 student Ty Arends with the first-ever Nelson Bell Bursary on May 8, marking the first of many bursaries to support local youth on the autism spectrum.
Nelson Bell was an aspiring hip-hop artist from Orillia who died in a 2018 car accident at the age of 16. His family and the Orillia Youth Centre established a bursary in his memory that will go to a local youth on the autism spectrum each year. Being on the spectrum himself, Nelson sometimes struggled to find his place in social circles, said his sister Leticia Stagg, so his family is happy that other autistic people can make connections and explore their interests using the bursary.
“The most rewarding feeling is that knowing that years from now, it’s still going to be there and that my brother’s legacy and name is going to live on and give more opportunity to other youth to be able to go out and do something that they’re really passionate about,” Stagg said. “Nelson was very fortunate to be able to have the opportunities that he did, so being able to give back to some youth in my brother’s name and honour really means a lot to our family, and I know it’ll mean a lot to the recipients as well.”
The family also worked with the centre to create the Valis Sound Studio in Nelson’s honour. It now shares a dedication with Nelson’s friend and fellow Orillia musician Jake Beers, who died by suicide at the end of 2019. The studio was made to honour Nelson’s love of music and the family hopes the bursary can allow others to find that same kind of passion.
“My brother was very passionate about music and that’s where he found himself,” Stagg said. “I’m just hoping that with the bursary it can help somebody else maybe find themselves.”
Stagg met Ty’s mother Kandas briefly through work prior to Nelson’s death. They bonded over the shared experience of having an autistic family member and discovered many similarities between Ty and Nelson. Years later, the pandemic limited possibilities for the bursary’s application process, so once it came time to select a recipient for the first-ever bursary, Stagg thought of Ty.
“Ty was the first person that came to my mind,” she said. “I thought he would be just the perfect person for it.”
Ty was shocked to be chosen as the recipient for the $500 bursary.
“When they handed it to me, I thought it’s an honour that they chose me out of a lot of people,” he said. “It was crazy. I didn’t think that I’d get picked.”
Ty is an avid gamer and plans to use the money to get equipment that will help him connect with his cousins and other people through online gaming platforms, something that’s particularly meaningful given the limitations of the pandemic.
“I’m just so thankful that they chose me,” he said.
One of the best parts about the bursary is that it can be used for any interest the recipient may have, said Orillia Youth Centre director Kevin Jon Gangloff, allowing Nelson to help people in all walks of life. Whether the recipient is into music, sports or gaming like Ty, they can use the money to chase their passion.
“Ty’s mom’s first words she said [were] how happy she was that someone thought of her son,” Gangloff said. “It made me smile because our whole goal was to honour Nelson and watch Nelson continue to support youth in our community.”
For Nelson’s family, the milestone of awarding the first bursary is heartwarming and rewarding. It gives them the chance to talk and reminisce about Nelson while also sharing his memory with the larger community.
“I know that this is something that Nelson would be really, really proud of,” Stagg said. “He’d be really honoured that we did this in his name because I know he always wanted to help other people, and I think this is the best way to keep his legacy.”