Young Milton Artist Mixes Compassion and Creativity to Make a Difference

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.

Shiuli stands beside her mural artwork, which will be installed at the Ontario First Art Centre Milton. The installation has been postponed until COVID-19 Emergency Measures are lifted.

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.

Follow Shiuli on Instagram @shiulikhanna.

Helping Youth Thrive in these Unpredictable Times

The Virtual Halton Youth Initiative Program

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.

Zoom online meeting

Still Reaching Goals in the Virtual World

Core HYI goals:

  1. Youth know more about local resources.
  2. People and organizations know more about topics that matter to youth.
  3. 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.

Instagrams
Instagram posts by the Communications Crew

COVID-19 Virtual Response Game: Online Asset-Building

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.

If you are a community partner and want more information about the Halton Youth Initiative or would like get involved visit www.haltonyouth.com or contact program coordinators, Siobhan Laverdiere, siobhan@ourkidsnetwork.ca or Lily Viggiano, lily@ourkidsnetwork.ca.

Download program overview and full details.

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.

Aniin, Bozhoo, Sekon, Tansi, and Tawow!

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.

A toddler-age girl holds her parents' hands and has a big smile as they walk through the park together.

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.

The time is now to develop your knowledge of Indigenous people in Canada. You can visit the National Center for Truth and Reconciliation.

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.

Increase your Indigenous literacy by exploring OKN’s Indigenous Reconciliation Strategy at OKN Indigenous Reconciliation.

Cupid, Chocolate, & Social-emotional Development

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)

Dad and daughter smiling and wearing heart-shaped glasses for Valentine's Day.

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.

To learn more and access helpful resources about social-emotional development in the early years, visit the Early Years Mental Health Toolkit.

What Youth Want Adults to Know

By Siobhan Laverdiere, Initiative Project Coordinator and Lily Viggiano, Youth Asset-Builder, Halton Youth Initiative

The Halton Youth Initiative connects youth and adult community members in Aldershot, Acton, and through local youth-lead committees. The North Oakville Youth Development Council served as a resource and model for this work.

Halton Youth Initiative website

Meaningful relationships are the foundation of asset-building in Halton. They are the key ingredient to our work with youth, communities and each other. One key aspect of this work is to give youth a voice. And one way we do this is through the Developmental Relationships (DR) framework.

When sharing the framework with the youth committees, we asked the question, “What do youth want adults to know?” This question is an excellent conversation starter to introduce both youth and adults to the 5 dimensions of Developmental Relationships: Express Care, Challenge Growth, Provide Support, Share Power, and Expand Possibilities.

Guided by the DR framework, the four committees’ common goals are to:

  • strengthen assets in youth.
  • build meaningful relationships between youth and adults (adult allies on the committees, but also adults in the wider community such as neighbours, teachers, coaches, youth workers).
  • connect youth with their community through various neighbourhood-focused projects.

Acton: Youth Want Adults to Know that Tone and Style of Behaviour Counts

The Acton committee is called the “Seven Somebodies”. Current membership is more than 7 youth, but the young members think the name is cool and decided to keep it as their numbers grew. This group focused on the tone and the style with which adults can control young people. They talked about how they felt adults did or did not Express Care.

There were discussions about how they will tune in to adults who acknowledge their presence, seem happy to see them, and have a good sense of humor – especially in moments of stress. They noted that a smile and warm welcome goes a long way to effect the overall tone of groups. They said that adults must find creative and upbeat ways of shutting down undesirable group behaviour, such as disruptions and staying on topic. These youth felt that they want adults to be in charge, but also be aware of their power to set the tone for the group.

“I can tell when adults go the extra mile, and it means a lot to me.
Jenna, Seven Somebodies committee member

Aldershot: Survey Says…Tune into How We Feel and Take Action!

The Aldershot Youth Crew established in April 2019, wanted to pose the question “What do youth want adults to know?” to the larger community of youth. So on September 14, at Alderfest, an annual neighbourhood-building event, our team members took up their clipboards and interviewed 56 local youth.

The results reflected two DR dimensions: Provide Support and Expand Possibilities:

  • Youth need their voices heard in their households, classrooms, and community.
  • Give youth more freedom to explore their community and interests.
  • Kids are awesome!
  • Tune into how we feel and take action.

“My older cousin takes me to Halton Conservation parks and always points out the signs and information. She tries to teach me new things even though she doesn’t have to. That’s how I know she cares”
Chase M., Aldershot Youth Crew member

Milton: See the Best in Us!

The Milton Youth Action Team discussed what they wish adults (in particular program coordinators and volunteer managers) knew about young people. This team wants adults to see the best in them; to see their ability to take advantage of opportunities and to leverage adults’ wisdom and experience to help young people. These statements reflect the Provide Support and Share Power DR dimensions.

“In terms of ideas, youth are good at coming up with ideas and need some authority to make it happen. Adults and youth are a powerful combination – youth power the ideas and adults can make it happen”
Rayyan, Milton Youth Action Team committee member

North Oakville: Support and Guide, but Give Us Our Space Too!

The North Oakville Youth Development Council (NOYDC) started in June 2017 and paved the way for the other developing youth councils in our other communities.

In discussions about support and guidance, Daniella a NOYDC member, explained that young people want adults to show that they care about youth and are there to support them. Youth welcome support and guidance but also want personal space to figure out for themselves what they want to do.

Expressing Care and Expanding Possibilities are reflected here. In the discussions with young people at the North Oakville Youth Development Council, they said that expressing care could also be about providing youth with the space they need to think things through in order to form their own identities and perspectives.

“As a youth, I would like adults to know that youth value their community and want to help assist in its proceedings. They like participating in political discussions and love being able to share their opinions, especially if people are willing to listen.”
Hargun, North Oakville Youth Development Council member


Read the What Youth Want Adults to Know Fact Sheet.

To learn more about the Halton Youth Initiative and read blogs written by the youth involved on the committees visit www.haltonyouth.com.


The Halton Youth Initiative is a project supported by Our Kids Network and the Ontario Trillium Foundation.