Our Story

Meet Ampai Thammachack

Ampai Thammachack headshot - 2022 women of worth honouree

For Step Above Stigma’s founder, Ampai Thammachack, many moments of compassion and community altered the course of her life, and now she’s all about paying it forward.

As the child of a Jamaican mother and first-generation immigrant Laotian father, Ampai saw no role models outside of her family who looked like her. She encountered further hardship after her family plunged under the poverty line. The stress of that experience, combined with a number of other hardships, led Ampai into a spiral of cripplingly low self-esteem and suicidal ideation. Though she was able to access help and emerge, a second episode, sparked by experiences of racial discrimination and sexual harassment at school, nearly tugged her back.

Once she emerged again, the hardships which she had overcome inspired her to do more for her community. She saw an opportunity to change the system, inspiring her to found Step Above Stigma (SAS).

Ampai Thammachack tearing paper with word stigma

Ampai Thammachack and her inspiring drive for meaningful change are deeply rooted in the community and are largely influenced by those she works with and for. What is most outstanding about her is the fierce resilience that she possesses which turned terrible personal circumstances into vision and inspiration for her career in social innovation. She aims to consistently give the world her best – and as Step Above Stigma proves, the world is much better for it. Through SAS, her passion, community-oriented events and campaigns unite youth across Canada, and her fundraising provides resources to youth in need who are just like her.

How it all started

Step Above Stigma was officially established in 2017 as a group at the University of Queens in Kingston, Ontario. 

When Ampai started recruiting our first volunteers, she posted in a Queen’s community group online without knowing what to expect. She described her mission and vision for Step Above Stigma and closed her laptop.

Within one week, she received over 70 requests to join the team.

The group began hosting events and raising awareness, and raising funds for mental health organizations and initiatives. Most noteworthy are the SAS-branded socks, which quickly became a staple in the Step Above Stigma story, helping us pave the way to make a difference in our communities and grow into what we are today.

The semi-colon symbol
Step Above Stigma semi colon logo

Ampai’s experiences are what inspired her vision for SAS’s symbol – a semicolon with a heart instead of a dot. 

In written language, a semicolon represents a place where the writer could have stopped but instead continued writing. In the mental health community, it symbolizes the continuity of life, as well as solidarity and affirmation for those with addiction, depression, suicide and other mental health issues.

Overall, the semicolon is a symbol of strength and support amidst suffering and hopelessness – a message which Step Above Stigma aims to promote through all that we do! We added our own twist to the established symbol, switching out the dot for a heart to emphasize the importance of self-love and knowing you are loved by those around you, including the Step Above Stigma community. 

Step Above Stigma Today

group of Step Above stigma volunteers holding socks on stairs

While Ampai did not first set out to found a nationwide charity, the opportunity to do more, impact thousands of young people, and grow became clear as initiatives continued to build and more and more people across the country were drawn to the cause.

Many years of hard teamwork, strategy, and fun later, as of 2020, Step Above Stigma is proud to be established as an official Canadian charity dedicated to empowering youth and young adults to love themselves and break the stigmas that say they are unworthy. SAS is a home that empowers youth and young adults to critically question social norms and step above the stigmas that prevent them from having good mental health. 

At SAS, we believe empowerment is the antidote to stigma, a mindset we aim to promote every day through all that we do. In fact, SAS has developed a range of programs, countless events, and creative initiatives, such as the Community Program, BIPOCloud, the Systemic Change Research team, Empowerment Labs, and more.

Since 2017 the once small organization has grown from a nervous idea and a few socks into an internationally recognized team of hundreds of volunteers across Canada working to eliminate the stigma around mental health.

To date, SAS has served more than 100,000 youths across Canada and has engaged and built a community of more than 700 volunteers. And we are well on our way to achieving our mission to instill community, leadership, and purpose in 250,000 young adults by 2027, so they can live mentally healthier lives – a mission that would not be possible without the support of our amazing community, including people like YOU. 

Join our story! Support our mission: make a donation, become a SAS partner or contribute your time as a SAS volunteer! Your help will go a long way.

Thank you so much, truly.

— The Step Above Stigma Team