A Youth for Youth Program in Thorncliffe Park and Flemingdon Park held in Spring 2021
Funded by: Community Crisis Response Grants, City of Toronto
Trustee: The Neighbourhood Organization
NOTE: an in-person version of this program is being co-designed with MGCI students and community leaders, and is planned to start in Febryuary 2023.
The Stronger Together workshops were developed by Engaged Communities, specifically the Stronger Together working group (Omar Khan, Mussarat Ejaz, Sam Hindawi and Zawar Patel), the two local youth facilitators (Kulsum Diwan and Nada Al Baradan) and the 12 amazing participants.
We first started by thinking about the goal of Engaged Communities. In various forms the Engaged Communities group has talked about the cycle of engagement.
Note the word “Together” in each area above -- we need to engage with the community. Hence one of EC’s priorities: mobilizing community voices. We tried to “walk the talk” and follow this same cycle when developing the Stronger Together workshops.
The goal of these workshops is to amplify the capacity of residents, primarily youth, to do community engagement so they can involve more of the community when learning about and tackling community concerns. In particular, the primary workshop goal is to work on #1 above, identifying and prioritizing concerns identified by local youth.
When EC initially conceived of this project, pre-pandemic, the focus was on youth violence
prevention, and working with youth to better identify and articulate community concerns around youth violence. The current topics of interest to youth participants drove the shape of these workshops. The Engaged Communities group worked directly with youth leaders and youth workers who do community engagement to develop and deliver workshops to 12 youth participants.
Longer-term, we see these workshops as one piece towards a community-wide collaboration on building solutions and iterating the cycle depicted above.
When I first registered for the Stronger Together session, I wasn’t certain the program would prioritize the community’s problems, however that is not the case as during the sessions, the facilitators definitely tried to connect with youth volunteers proactively by getting to know youth personally on what strengths/stressors we see in the community based on our prior experiences and our intentions on serving our community. The experience was uplifting and supportive to my perspective as Engaged Communities support youth and all community voices but lets us lead and take action. I value my experience as I saw the program was leaning towards supporting youths like me to achieve our community goals and presenting our ideas to community groups by assigning us to interview community members such as other youth or close family members on issues that mattered to them, and in addition afterwards we were given the opportunity to share what we learned and developed steps to empower our voices as active community members.
We started with a working group of 4 EC members and worked through some material that I and Sam (another EC member) provided. We worked together as a group to describe the goals, desired outcomes, and a plan for delivering the program. Then, I took the plan and started to implement it. Honestly, it was difficult, because the easy thing would have been fully developing all the workshop materials, giving that material to youth facilitators, and managing all the details. Instead, I first worked with our co-op student, Kulsum Diwan, to help her articulate community strengths and concerns she had, and to encourage her to become a facilitator in the sessions, where she developed materials for the sessions and directed the youth in discussions in particular about strengths and stressors in the community. Then, after recruiting Nada, the other facilitator, we jointly developed the workshop plans, leaving ample time for the participants to have discussions and ask questions of us and each other. When the first session started, and all the participants had their video off, and were quiet, frankly, I was nervous! I thought, oh no, this really isn’t going to work. But our amazing facilitators, Nada and Kulsum, energized the participants and really got everyone talking. I’m amazed by what the participants shared, how they reached out into their community and learned about community issues, and how excited a number of the participants were to continue their work.
I feel like this program is just a start, and we need to work on sustaining these kinds of activities with local youth.
Below we describe the outcomes we hoped to achieve as we started to develop the program. In bold, we describe how it went.
Youth Participant Outcomes
Know how to describe a concern for a wider audience
Know different ways to gather feedback/information from the community
Listening to and documenting resident concerns
Able to develop some basic tools (questionnaires, simple surveys, petitions)
Explore other methods: photos, videos, storytelling
Know who they can ask for help
Know more about the concerns of other youth in the community
Increased solidarity between community youth
Youth lead social action
We achieved most of the short term outcomes, in particular, we connected with many youth who now reach out to us at Engaged Communities to discuss their goals. Furthermore, despite everything being on Zoom, we thought youth were able to feel some connection with each other.
However, we didn’t have time to explore specific techniques like questionnaires, simple surveys and petitions. Some of the youth used photos and videos to document their outreach in the community, but we didn’t specifically talk about using those techniques. We shall see with the longer-term outcomes.
Youth Facilitator Outcomes
Increased ability to collaborate and co-design a project
Improved ability to present their ideas/actions to a group
Increased capacity to reflect on previous actions and identify what worked and what didn’t
Increased capacity to facilitate group exchanges
Increased solidarity between community youth
Youth lead social action
The local youth facilitators were amazing. One was an experienced facilitator and brought many of her in-person experiences to the Zoom, and made the space lively and fun. The other was particularly good at facilitating challenging conversations and giving time and space and encouragement to the youth to share what they were comfortable sharing. Both got better as the workshops progressed.
Know which groups of youth are receiving support in which programs or grassroots groups or schools.
Engaged with youth who aren’t as involved in the above
We learned more about community strengths and gaps in terms of youth support. Some youth who participated hadn’t participated in many groups before, but we need to engage more youth who aren’t typically part of community programming.
Engaged Communities Outcomes
Develop collaborative decision making and governance ability
Develop group’s ability to co-design and co-facilitate programs collaboratively with stakeholders
More effectively use all expertise at the table
Ability to tailor existing engagement materials to local community and participants
More connected to diverse community members and their concerns
More connected to local agencies
This program could not have happened without the small working group that talked about our goals, our values, and a plan. The vision of letting the youth create these workshops, and drive the material -- that came from the working group. We can do even more to involve the expertise of the people in Engaged Communities, but it is a good start.
Agency Stakeholders Outcomes
Supporting and sharing resources together.
Increased awareness of youth leaders concerns and their work
Increased awareness of Engaged Communities’ work
Increased participation with youth leaders and Engaged Communities on engagement work