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Movement of Young Leaders Changing Communities Across Ontario

Posted on August 13, 2018
By Emily Branje

A decade has passed since Community Living Ontario first reached out to young people across Ontario to inform its understanding of how youth were experiencing their community. In doing so, we learned that a large number of youths, and especially youths who have an intellectual disability, often feel isolated within their schools and greater communities. They do not feel a sense of belonging and therefore, lack an abundance of meaningful relationships with their peers and community members. We acknowledged that this void puts youth at risk and limits the opportunities available to them. As the numbers rise, the constant restrictions placed on young people contribute to the overall poor health and sustainability of Ontario’s communities. So in 2008, we put out a call to action and invited people to join us! An idea had sparked and a movement was born.

Steadily over the last 10 years, youths who took up the call to create change alongside their adult allies have built a provincial youth-led movement of community-minded citizens of all ages. Youths and allies of the Re:Action4Inclusion movement believes in the power of young voices and envisions a future where people are empowered to live the life they dream for themselves. Re:Action4Inclusion has created spaces to support youth to have discussions that reframe the understanding of what authentic inclusion is and requires from all of us individually and as a community. In particular, as a collective, the movement has worked hard to help inform communities and build a consciousness for the barriers that are faced by people who have an intellectual disability. Therefore, side by side, young people from all walks of life and abilities are harnessing the power of collective impact and using their creativity and passion to build stronger communities.

Specifically, over the last three years, we have supported 18 youth-directed Community Change Projects that engaged hundreds of young minds in conversations and community work that directly impacts the sense of ownership youth feel for their community. We have co-designed and developed an accessible curriculum handbook, website, and other essential resources in partnership with youth advisors which support young people of all abilities to advocate for themselves and one other. This September, we will also be launching a Toolkit designed to support youth and community allies in their efforts to collaborate and affect positive change.

As we continue to invest in this generation, we also provide opportunities to guide and inform the civic interests of young people by hosting provincial leadership summits and other networking events. Our next leadership summit will be hosted on March 29th and 30th 2019 and will be a 10-year celebration you won’t want to miss! By enriching a youth’s personal network within their own municipality and provincially, we enable them to take charge of their ideas and creatively work in collaboration with community allies to sustain meaningful partnerships and advance community development initiatives that include youth leadership.

To deepen the consciousness of both youth and adult collaborators about the barriers youth are facing, we have hosted dozens of workshops and training events that instills the principals of authentic youth engagement and the need for thoughtful inclusive practices. Youth from a diversity of communities have been enriched by a collective impact approach. Youth have set the tone of our work and have driven the conversation by sharing their lived experiences, designing the program, and by being a part of the evaluation process at every stage. We have provided personalized training to youth as workshop facilitators, speakers, and organizers and created opportunities for informed young leaders to be at the table, equally invested as community stakeholders.

We strongly believe in the value of building a provincial network of young leaders who engage and mentor one another. We know that when young people feel a sense of ownership at a young age they will be actively engaged citizens as adults. The history of this movement signifies a generation has been taught to see the world differently and we can’t stop now! We invite you to join us and help us to empower a generation of community-minded leaders as we expand the reach of this extensive network and strengthen the vigorous momentum that has been generated.

Collective Impact, Youth, Cities Deepening Community

Emily Branje

By Emily Branje

Emily Branje is currently working as the Youth Partnership and Project Advisor for Community Living Ontario. She coordinates the provincial youth engagement initiative Re:Action4Inclusion. Emily was a passionate advocate for inclusion throughout her high school years and became involved with the Re:Action4Inclusion movement as a student when she co-founded the Perth County Youth for Inclusion group in her home county. She, along with her peers, organized a tour of several high schools across the Avon Maitland District School Board to speak about the barriers youth face at school and in the community. Emily has worked as an advocate for inclusion but also as a personal support worker and tutor for individuals with physical and intellectual disabilities of all ages. She obtained her Bachelor of Arts Degree and Bachelor of Education degree from Queen’s University. Emily strongly believes that it is a fundamental right to live a meaningful life and that we all should have the opportunity to thrive as individuals. She also firmly believes that every child has the capacity to learn and that a person’s community is one of the greatest classrooms.

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