By Siobhan Laverdiere, Halton Youth Initiative Coordinator, and Lily Viggiano, Youth Asset-Builder
The Halton Youth Initiative (HYI) completed its second year at the end of 2020. At this point, we wanted to share with Our Kids Network and the Halton professional community, the valuable knowledge and insight that we, and our colleagues and community partners, have gained. Practical resources, programming ideas, and approaches to engaging youth can all be found on the HYI website. And as HYI leaders, we’re both available for consultations regarding youth programming and engagement. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
As HYI begins its third year, we look forward to even more community connections and partnerships that will play a role in sustaining this important work in the future.
Siobhan and Lily
Youth Voices Matter in North Oakville!
It all started with the slogan Youth Voices Matter in North Oakville! The idea was to elevate youth voice and empower youth to have a positive impact in the neighbourhood of North Oakville.
Since 2017 those youth voices have grown louder and louder to include the Acton, Aldershot and Milton neighbourhoods. Today our 94 (and growing) youth volunteers’ thoughts, opinions, ideas and creativity can be found on the HYI website and across social media channels, HYI blogs, podcasts, YouTube , and associated Instagram pages such as @miltonactionteam@youthaldershot@sevensomebodies@northoakYDC.
Website as a Forum for Youth and a Resource for Professionals
The HYI website is packed with information about the activities of HYI over the past 2 years. It includes so many stories that reveal what youth learned and felt as they expressed their views about tough topics such as mental health, Developmental Relationships, and Indigenous Truth and Reconciliation in blogs and podcasts.
Professionals who work with youth will find the HYI website useful for information on program planning, ideas on youth engagement and leadership, as a practical community development model, and much more.
Info & Links resources on mental health and developmental assets, description of the adult ally role and the 2018 results of the Youth Voices Matter in North Oakville survey
Events archived database of community and youth events from 2017 to present.
Put Developmental Relationships at the Centre of your Work with Youth
HYI’s success with youth engagement is founded on the five elements of the Developmental Relationships (DR) framework: Expressing Care; Challenging Growth; Providing Support; Sharing Power; and Expanding Possibilities. When we center our work on relationships, all the rest seems to fall into place.
As you explore the website, we encourage you to view it through the lens of DR and consider the positive effects of youth working with adults (while the adults demonstrate one or more of the five elements of the DR framework). We believe this approach has made a significant difference in the motivation and enthusiasm of HYI young people to become actively involved in their community (currently virtually). Some even take on leadership roles. If you haven’t already, consider putting Developmental Relationships at the centre of your organization’s work.
“At the Halton Youth Initiative, we are avid participants who empathize and advocate for the empowerment of ourselves as youth and for others in the community. We are inspired by the voices we are bringing to youth around Halton and the happiness we can bring into people’s lives.”
Angela, HYI youth volunteer
Partner Support is the Key to Engaging Youth in the Community
Welcoming caring community partners into the work of HYI has also been pivotal to our success. These agencies and organizations are stakeholders in the community who want to be involved with HYI other than as adult allies. We hope to welcome even more exceptional partners in the future.
Community partners provide support to HYI youth councils by:
building connections between the youth council and their organizations (generating awareness about the youth council and related activities, advocating for youth mentorship opportunities, and increasing youth Developmental Assets).
promoting the initiative in the community.
encouraging and welcoming youth in the community.
participating on subcommittees or workgroups.
providing in-kind resources.
attending meetings as a guest occasionally, as invited by youth members.
The Halton Youth Initiative partners below have made a world of difference to the youth members over the past 2 years. Thank you!
By Karen Majerly, Communications at Work and Beth Williams, Our Kids Network Communications Manager
As we carry on into October with managing the return to school – and work for some of us – in person or virtually, you can probably use a few more trusty tools to help families as they grapple with these uncertain circumstances. Now is the perfect time to get familiar with the resources on the Our Kids Network website – all there to support your vital work with Halton children, youth, and families.
Strengthening the capacity of the professional community
Let’s start with the centre of it all – the Our Kids Network community. As a collective impact network, OKN builds the capacity of community organizations that support children and their families. You are likely already familiar with OKN’s vision: All children and youth thrive! Be sure to review the full explanation of OKN’s renewed mission and role to fully understand how the network builds capacity in the professional community.
As a professional working with children and youth, you might know that OKN conducts and shares research, develops resources to help you achieve your goals, and brings people together to achieve collective impact. Collaboration and knowledge-sharing among organizations means everyone across the region – including you – is supported in their work toward the Halton 7, the ideal living conditions we want for kids and families.
Using data to plan and improve programs and services
Our Kids Network collects and shares research on what children and youth need to thrive. This trusted information can support your day-to-day work and planning. Visit the Research Resources section on the website to find a range of community reports, survey results, and planning tools that include neighbourhood-level data.
Make this your first stop to learn more about your neighbourhood and municipality, as well as how to interpret and use data to best plan and deliver services.
Upgraded Data Portal
OKN website users like you report that the new Data Portal 2.0 makes it even easier to find the data you need, then customize it to make your own maps, charts, and graphs.
The DP 2.0 contains Halton data from the 2003-18 Early Development Instrument survey, Kindergarten Parent Survey, and Tell Them From Me (TTFM) / OurSCHOOL survey, and includes the most recent health and Canada Census data.
Also in the Research Resources section, you can learn about the frameworks and strategies OKN uses to guide its work and support alignment.
One of these key elements is the Asset-Building Framework. And at the heart of asset-building sits meaningful relationships – the key to OKN’s and your work.
Visit the Building Relationships section to learn more about Developmental Assets and Family Assets, and definitely explore the popular Asset-Building Toolkit, full of information and inspiration to help you bring positive child and youth development into your own practice and work environment. In the Facilitator’s Library, you’ll find tools to help you present workshops such as “Everyone’s an Asset-Builder,” and conduct informative meetings to educate families.
Enhancing understanding of Indigenous Reconciliation
Explore the informative information available to help you increase your own and others’ understanding of Indigenous history and perspectives. Expand your own Indigenous literacy – an understanding of the culture, context, and rights of Indigenous people and the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples – and then share what you’ve learned with your colleagues and clients.
You may be particularly interested in viewing examples of Indigenous Land Acknowledgements and learning about how to determine territorial lands.
Take advantage of the OKN community and resources
You’re part of a community of organizations, agencies, and professionals across Halton that Our Kids Network strives to connect and support. Use the diverse OKN website resources to inform and inspire yourself and other professionals as you make your many positive contributions to the lives of young people and their families.
Thank you for your efforts and please reach out with your comments, questions, and ideas.
Introduction by Vanessa Box-Jones, Our Kids Network Milton Community Hub Coordinator.
Shiuli Khanna is a grade 12 student in Milton, Ontario. She is an aspiring young artist and community volunteer who is passionate about engaging and supporting people and her community. Her work has been displayed in the Milton Art Centre gallery space.
Young Milton Artist Mixes Compassion and Creativity to Make a Difference
By Shiuli Khanna, visual artist, a grade 12 student, and community youth volunteer
I moved to Milton in grade 7 after spending a few years in Toronto. At the time, I was a scared 12 year-old kid who didn’t want to move from the big city to a “small town”, but the five amazing years that I’ve lived in Milton have definitely helped me become the passionate, creative person that I am today.
I’ve designed posters for the Milton Youth Advisory Task Force advertising, for the Milton Youth Awards, and my work has been on display in the gallery at the First Ontario Art Centre Milton. I’ve also been a member of the Milton Youth Task Force (MYTF) for 4 years. We work to impact our community and be informed, connected and empowered community leaders. After one of our MYTF meetings, Vanessa Box-Jones, the Our Kids Network Milton Community Hub coordinator and an adult ally who works with our group, told me about an amazing opportunity to paint a mural for the Hub. I rarely turn down an opportunity to create art, so of course, I said yes!
Inspiration for the OKN Hub Mural
My inspiration for this artwork was all the wonderful people I’ve met in Milton. This town has become my home and I really wanted to portray its diversity and multicultural aspects in my mural. In fact, most of the pictures I have painted are either based on photos in my gallery or events I’ve seen. Whether it’s handing out flowers for the International Women’s Day March; walking around Milton during the coldest night of the year to raise funds for the homeless; or even just holding the door open for someone – simple acts go a long way, and I love picturing them in my art. I remember getting caught in the rain while waiting for the bus, luckily I had an umbrella. Someone else who was also waiting for the bus wasn’t as lucky so I offered to share my umbrella. I felt really good knowing that I made a difference in some way.
Making a Difference by Getting Involved
Milton has a variety of opportunities to get involved in: the annual Milton Fall Fair; the Railway Museum; and farmers’ markets to support our local farmers; and many other seasonal events in downtown Milton. So to the people who may think there’s nothing to do in this “small town” (as I was once believed); I say get involved in our wonderful community and get to know more people!
You can join community groups such as the Milton Youth Task Force, where youth have the chance to share their voices and advocate for the youth of Milton. You can also put a smile on someone’s face by volunteering at the Milton District Hospital. I volunteer in palliative care, and being able to make someone smile can make your entire day. You could start a band and participate in the Battle of the Bands event, or perform in the Milton Fair. Youth have the opportunity to show their many talents during Milton Culture Days events with music, intricate henna (mehendi) designs and more. You could join the Fine Arts Society of Milton and have your artwork showcased in the First Ontario Arts Centre Milton gallery!
Artistic Expression and Future Plans
Art is everywhere and I love making it whether I’m painting, sketching, or just doodling. When I can’t convey my feelings and emotions through words, I turn to art because it allows me to express myself freely without being judged. I’ll be graduating in a year and my aspiration is to attend medical school. Medicine is an incredibly stressful field, so I’m glad that I have art as an outlet when times get difficult. Though I can’t say for sure how art will fit into my future, it will always be a part of who I am. And I know that if I had never come to Milton, I’d be a very different person for sure.
By Siobhan Laverdiere, Halton Youth Initiative Project Coordinator and Lily Viggiano, Youth Asset Builder
The goal of the Halton Youth Initiative (HYI) is to elevate youth voice and empower youth to have a positive impact in the communities of North Oakville, Acton, Aldershot and Milton. The project is youth-led, with young people identifying local issues and strategies for possible solutions. Activities are grounded in an asset-building approach and focuses on relationship building. Funded by the Ontario Trillium Foundation, the initiative brings youth and adults together to form developmental relationships in the four communities.
Youth Tackle Self-isolation: Using Technology to Cross Borders and Connect
By the time the Region of Halton instated COVID-19 pandemic emergency measures in early April, HYI youth groups had already begun to move the project to the virtual world. This important transition provided an unexpected opportunity for the four youth tables in North Oakville, Acton, Aldershot, and Milton to become borderless and to begin to connect with and get to know each other. Expanding their personal online communities to the other Halton HYI communities and beyond was a natural step for most of them.
Still Reaching Goals in the Virtual World
Core HYI goals:
Youth know more about local resources.
People and organizations know more about topics that matter to youth.
Youth work with community agencies to develop/promote positive youth hang-out space.
The four youth groups quickly found that they could continue their work virtually. They reorganized themselves into three online communities, each taking on one or two of the HYI core goals.
Communications Crew focuses on creating informative and engaging content for social media, the HYI website (blogs and vlogs) and traditional media.
Community Builders are developing campaigns that support or acknowledge specific groups of people in Halton during COVID-19, for example supporting seniors and acknowledging grocery store clerks.
Creative Spaces group is developing virtual activities for HYI youth and other youth in Halton. They are also promoting opportunities in the community for youth participation.
Weekly ZOOM meetings facilitate discussions and planning, and the youth use Google Classroom and Google Drive to share and edit content they have developed for their projects. They have posted blogs, images and other information on social media, and written letters to the editors of local media for National Volunteer Week, National Youth Week and about addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. They are coordinating virtual card games with seniors, recording DIY tutorials face masks, and hosting Kahoot! quiz championships for Halton youth.
The Town of Halton Hills and Positive Space Network have requested specific content from our teams for their own youth engagement activities.
Most youth are feeling stressed, anxious, and bored during the pandemic. An empowering COVID-19 Virtual Response Team game was the answer to helping attend to these negative emotions.
Each week, youth and adult allies come together online to talk about one dimension of the Developmental Relationships framework. They participate in activities that connect with a weekly theme and compete for points and fun prizes.
For example, youth were asked to reflect on the Developmental Relationship dimension of Challenging Growth as it relates to their virtual participation.
How has changing everything onto a virtual platform in general challenged your personal growth?
“It’s helped me become more independent and create my own schedule.” “I’m taking the initiative to ask others for help.” “A lot of self-regulation…” Self-motivation… “to focus on school work as there’s no strictness.”
Virtual Safe Space can Help Build Confidence and Boost In-person Participation in Future
The young people are responding positively to the three newly-formed groups and are growing through the virtual experience. Some who may not have high participation at in-person meetings are more confident and join in more within the virtual environment. The groups are learning the etiquette and protocols of meeting online as a group, such as one person speaking at a time and intentional listening. Skills that can support interpersonal in-person interactions later on.
We continue to find ways to foster connections between team members, they are also trying to find innovative ways to create safe spaces online for some young people to make it more comfortable to participate. This may lead to increased confidence and self-esteem later with in-person group meetings and interactions.
Halton Community Partners Share Ideas and Information on Supporting Youth
More ideas and strategies on supporting and working with youth during the COVID-19 pandemic from the Oakville YMCA, Oak Park Neighbourhood Centre, Oakville Public Library, Nelson Youth Centres, Milton Public Library, Canadian Gap Year Association. Download the PDF.
Hello and Welcome… You just took the first step in the journey of Indigenous Reconciliation. Are you ready to move a mountain?
By Angela Bellegarde, Our Kids Network Indigenous Lead
What does Indigenous Reconciliation have to do with helping children and youth thrive? The answer may not be obvious at first, but the two concepts are, in fact, quite connected. Our Kids Network (OKN) has always been at the forefront of supporting community partners to identify issues and facilitate collaborative strategies and action. The Asset-Building movement, Early Years Initiative, the Early Years Mental Health Toolkit and the OKN Data Portal 2.0 are all examples of OKN and community led initiatives and strategies that support children and youth to thrive.
OKN is once again working on a critically important initiative; an Indigenous Reconciliation Strategy that will educate and engage OKN community partners in one of the most important and transformative movements in Canadian history.
Think about the Children
Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) should be familiar to you and all Canadians by now. And perhaps you’ve heard about Residential Schools…
Well, in 2008, the TRC began its work to hear from thousands Indigenous people who attended the 130 Residential Schools that were in operation across Canada between 1831 and 1996. The purpose of the schools was to assimilate Indigenous children into the non-Indigenous way of being. The brutality experienced by these children has resulted in generations of Indigenous people struggling with lasting trauma.
Think about it for a minute. If you have children in your life right now, how would you feel if they were forcibly taken away from you by the government for the entire school year? You would have very little opportunity to teach them your values, traditions, and culture. Think about it from the children’s perspective. It is so difficult to imagine how afraid and confused they felt to be forced away from the people they trusted and loved, and the places where they were growing up …all at the hands of Canadian government officials. Unfortunately, I can imagine it because my father was a survivor of the Residential School System, as were my aunts and uncles. By now we are all aware of the reasons for the term Residential School Survivor.
So Why is OKN Involved in Indigenous Reconciliation?
Well, for a number of reasons. OKN believes in what is stated in the TRC Final Report. That is, in order for Canada to flourish in the twenty-first century, reconciliation between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people must be based on the Ten Principles of Reconciliation. We must be inspired to transform Canadian society so that our children and grandchildren can live together in dignity, peace, and prosperity on these lands we now share. (www.trc.ca)
OKN has a critical role to play in this goal by developing a Halton-wide Indigenous Reconciliation Strategy that is informed by the 94 Calls to Action and work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). Our substantial network of agencies that support children and youth can be successful in honoring the Calls to Action through collective impact.
We know that the Residential School System has left a legacy of inter-generational trauma. One in four First Nations children live in poverty compared to 1 in 9 of other Canadian children. We know that Indigenous children in Halton and Canada are over represented in foster care. First Nations children more frequently come into contact with child welfare as a result of neglect and risk factors associated with poverty rather than referrals for physical or sexual abuse.
With an Indigenous Reconciliation Strategy in place, OKN and its community partners can play a significant role in ensuring that ALL children and youth in Halton thrive, including Indigenous children.
By Melissa Graves, Health Promoter, Halton Region; Our Kids Network Early Years Mental Health Committee Member
Along with all the fun of trading Valentine cards, paper hearts, and enjoying treats, Valentine’s Day is also a great opportunity to think about and celebrate what we love, appreciate, and value in the important relationships in our lives. It can also bring to mind how those relationships develop.
It All Starts in the Early Years
Developing skills for healthy and strong relationships begins in the early years, by laying the foundation for expressing a range of emotions and healthy social-emotional development.
The foundations of social competence that develop in the first six years of life are linked to emotional well-being and affect a child’s ability to form successful relationships throughout life. As a child develops into adulthood, these same social skills are essential for lasting friendships; healthy intimate relationships; effective parenting; the ability to have successful relationships in the workplace; and to contribute to the well being of the community. (Centre on the Developing Child Harvard University, 2004)
Early Experiences are Important to Mental Health
Research has also shown that early experiences shape the developing brain and underpin an individual’s mental health and well-being. The social-emotional skills developed in the first six years of a child’s life are linked to their later success in school, work and ability to form healthy relationships.
Watch this video by the Centre on the Developing Child at Harvard University about serve-and-return interactions. It illustrates how to use this strategy to strengthen positive interactions between caregivers and children, and shows how caregivers can use everyday moments to build relationships that also foster social competence.