Creating Solutions: YOU THink Symposium

 “We need to stop being ‘youth’ and ‘leaders’ and start being one youth oriented society. It takes efforts from both sides, but the end result is something whole, something that works, something we should all want to be a part of: a community”.

– Cheyanne Monk, a youth volunteer from Sudbury Action Center for Youth, closed the morning by sharing her personal story of rising through adversity.

About the Event:

On June 5th 2015, the YouthREX Northeast Hub and the United Way Sudbury and/et Nipissing co-hosted a knowledge mobilization eXpo to inspire ideas and action for youth wellbeing in our community. The YOU THink symposium provided an opportunity for youth and youth sector professionals to come together to plan projects to improve outcomes for youth in Sudbury.

In our experiences, many groups and organizations in Sudbury are having productive conversations about the challenges youth living in our community and region face. As a community, we have a good understanding of these challenges. They include: a lack of safe and vibrant meeting spaces for youth, and a lack of services and supports to name just two examples. With the YOU THink event we wanted to: 1. Inspire people to think about addressing challenges in creative ways, and 2. Provide space and structure to develop new and innovative solutions to issues impacting local youth.

The Inspiration

Our first guest Speaker, Jill Wyatt, Vice President
 of Community Investments & Collaborations at the United Way Calgary, shared her experiences creating the “All In for Youth” initiative. She explained how they have significantly reduced school drop out rates by connecting at risk youth with success coaches. This program has helped remove barriers for youth who were interested in attending school but who faced some challenges in doing so through reengagement strategies and ‘Success Coaches’ who have provided 463 youth with the supports and resources.

Next, we welcomed Alessandro Constantini, Founder and Artistic Director of YES Theatre. Alessandro spoke about the impact of providing youth the opportunities to tell their story. He stressed the usefulness of the arts in engaging youth in meaningful and positive experiences, and the importance of having a sense of belonging that often comes with participation in the arts community. His comments certainly resonated with our own beliefs in the importance of creativity and strengths-based practices!

Afterwards, Barb Nott, Community Development Committee Chair United Way Sudbury and Nipissing Districts Sudbury, shared some preliminary findings based on focus group discussions the United Way conducted with youth regarding their needs. Over 100 Sudbury youth were interviewed and some of the changes they identified for their community include:

More athletic, recreational and cultural opportunities

A safer, cleaner, crime free downtown core

Improved public transportation

Creating Solutions

The event generated a lot of discussion and it was evident during the afternoon activity that participants were eager to collaborate. Service providers brought with them their passion and commitment to supporting youth, and youth were open to sharing their experiences and ideas. Together they put knowledge into action and created community action plans to address issues impacting Sudbury youth in five areas:

1. Mental Health: This group developed strategies to improve accessibility of mental health resources to youth who do not have access to phones and the internet.

2. Homelessness: This group wondered if youth could help build affordable housing and/or a transition home to assist those youth who are transitioning out of care. They also proposed strategies for making food more accessible to homeless youth.

3. Employment and Education: This group discussed ways to make education and employment more inclusive to all youth by mobilizing organizations to provide more outreach, and by offering incentives to youth for participate in services.

4. Accessibility: This group proposed the development of a common platform to coordinate, plan and promote activities and opportunities for youth. They also developed some strategies to improve transportation to and from services.

5. Equality and Respect for Youth: This group talked about the need to have more youth representation on boards and committees to give them opportunities to advocate at a “higher level” to be a part of decision making processes.

Participants focused on understanding how we could engage more youth in the development and implementation of these solutions. Everyone in the room agreed that youth participation is critical and that the benefit of youth and adults working together can be significant. As Cheyanne Monk stated, we need to start by breaking down the division between youth and adults because these are not youth issues, they are community issues.

Next Steps

The YouthREX Northeast Hub and the United Way Sudbury and/et Nipissing plan to help to keep this momentum moving forward. Our hope is to facilitate another event that will bring the participants back together to further develop the possibilities that were generated from the YOU THink symposium. This event will also enable further engagement and input from youth. From building civic engagement and responsibility, to fostering skills and knowledge, the benefits of authentic youth engagement can be extensive!

Click here for more on the YouthREX Northeastern Hub. 

Dr. Diana Coholic
Academic Director
YouthREX Northeastern Regional Hub

Vivian Oystrick
Hub Manager
YouthREX Northeastern Regional Hub

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