27 Apr Changemaker Spotlight: Updates from #OCChangemakers Cheryl Lui, Olivia Rozema and Jessica Macasaet-Bondy
Ontario Community Changemakers is a fellowship and micro-grant program for young civic innovators with bold ideas to activate public space, enhance civic engagement and foster social inclusion. This program is powered by 8 80 Cities and funded by Balsam Foundation. Visit ontariocommunitychangemakers.org to learn more.
Markham Pollinator Pathway
Cheryl Lui is an avid conservationist and gardener and has a particular interest in preserving endangered species, specifically the monarch butterfly population. Over the past two years, she has raised and released over 75 monarch butterflies. Motivated by her interest, she seeks to engage the local community through planting initiatives and fun activities to help preserve endangered species.
Cheryl’s project called Markham Pollinator Pathway aims to create a habitat for pollinators and a space for humans to enjoy while also sparking inspiration to incorporate pollinator plants in one’s home. By being immersed in pollinator plants, the community will have a chance to learn how the plants are beneficial to the pollinator population.
The first six months of the project were focused on getting the planting site approved by the City of Markham and networking in the community. Despite the challenges in connecting with the City of Markham, Cheryl was able to connect with the Parks Planner to discuss the potential site for the pollinator garden. Once reviewed and approved, the City of Markham sent crews to prepare the site for planting which involved removing the weeds, cultivating the soil, and covering the soil with cardboard and mulch. The site is now prepared and will be ready for planting in Spring/Summer 2022.
During these six months, Cheryl also did some networking in the community to promote the project and meet other enthusiasts. She volunteered at a local planting project and created an Instagram page (MarkhamMonarch) to keep the community updated on the progress of the project as well as recruit volunteers when planting is required.
Cheryl will now decide the specific pollinator and native plants she would like to grow at the site as well as the order and specific areas to plant them. She will host a planting day and will consider a follow-up event on releasing butterflies if the situation permits. In terms of communications, she plans to set up promotional material to recruit volunteers, develop a logo for the project, and print material to hand out to visitors and volunteers during planting day.
To learn more about Markham Pollinator Pathway, follow them on Instagram.
As a museum educator, Olivia Rozema believes museums are important to our social fabric as they impact how we understand ourselves, our history, and how we navigate towards a more inclusive culture. Sparked by this strong belief, Olivia created Museum Memories, which is a series of subsidized workshops available to groups that provide support to seniors, people with disabilities and those facing barriers in the Town of Lincoln and the surrounding area. Through hands-on activities, the workshops will foster communication, collaboration, and visual literacy while working to encourage participants to connect their stories and life experiences to each other and to the broader context of history and culture.
The workshops are unique to the collection and historic buildings at the Lincoln Museum and Cultural Centre. Many of her community members from the rural town of Lincoln do not have access to the variety of programs that may be available in larger city centres. “I believe inclusion at the museum is the first step and can drive cultural awareness toward creating access in other public spaces,” expresses Olivia. Each workshop engages participants with original and replica objects of the museum, stimulates memory by engaging participants with hands-on activities and sensory experiences, provides opportunities for communication with community members outside of their day-to-day demographic, and increases the reach and awareness of the museum’s cultural programs.
Being the first of its kind in Lincoln, this inclusive and accessible workshop series has helped reduce feelings of isolation among every participant. Many times, their visits to the seniors’ residences go longer than scheduled because participants want to stay and continue to share their lived experiences. “The positivity that these sessions produce goes beyond any quantitative metrics that I can provide,” says Olivia.
Due to the rural nature of the community and the additive challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and snow events, it was difficult getting seniors to the museum. Therefore, Olivia and her team meet the seniors where they are located and perform in-person at long-term care homes and seniors’ centers rather than at the museum. In conducting these outreach visits, unique challenges have arisen such as adapting to inadequate facilities and different sized rooms, factoring in COVID-19 restrictions and physical distancing measures, managing institutional miscommunications, and transporting materials in the snow, rain, and ice.
Since the project started, Olivia and her team have reached 226 participants over 17 workshops, but Olivia envisions that they will go well beyond their initial 240-person goal in the next six months. The workshops will be added to the existing bookable programs at the museum after the grant period which allows community organizations outside of the scope of the project to independently book the series. This will ensure that the project has a lasting local impact on how the museum engages with all members of the community.
Activate Transit Windsor Essex
Jessica Macasaet-Bondy, mother of two from Windsor, is passionate about municipal decision-making and city building. In 2019, she became involved in the transit advocacy space when her municipality was looking for feedback on their new transit master plan. A year later, the COVID-19 pandemic forced Windsor to shut down their public transit. Alongside other grassroots advocates, Jessica and her team created Active Transit Windsor Essex, a transit advocacy organization to push for a more accessible and sustainable transportation system in the Windsor-Essex region. Their goals are to help shift public opinion in support of accessible transit and demand action from decision-makers who fail to support public transportation because they envision Windsor as a car city.
In the first six months, they made a significant impact on their community as they built relationships with community organizations that served commuters and focused on priority groups such as students, low-income families, people struggling to find employment, people experiencing homelessness, migrant workers, and newcomers. Jessica and her team also created a successful Transit and Mobility Survey that garnered over 600 responses from around the region. “We worked with several community groups, as well as Transit Windsor, to make sure that our sample was well represented amongst transit riders and that the most vulnerable voices in our community were at the table,” says Jessica. They used preliminary data from the survey to advocate for improved spending to support the progress of Windsor’s Transit Master Plan in the 2021 Municipal Budget. The local media coverage they received during the municipal budget deliberations was another highlight as public opinion was in their favour, and decision-makers were feeling the pressure of the work that they put in.
The survey helped spread the word about their organization and opened the doors to many conversations with community leaders laying a foundation for change. The survey also attracted a very valuable person to their leadership team which helped overcome their challenge of putting together a leadership team that would take ownership. Their survey wrapped up at the end of 2021, and since then, they have been working with a local data solution company to display key points of the survey using an interactive tool.
Jessica and her team also held a coalition meeting with different community organizations to discuss core concerns through experiences seen by the organizations to help create a community mandate for public transit. In the next six months, they will also be looking to raise the profile of public transit during the provincial election to ensure that transit is seen as a non-partisan priority issue. “We plan to approach this from a local perspective by creating and sharing content on social media about how to use public transportation in Windsor and getting local community leaders involved in this content. We will also work to connect with other transit advocacy organizations around the province to put out joint messaging on what provincial leaders should be expected to do to support public transit,” explains Jessica.