26 May Changemaker Spotlight: Updates from #OCChangemakers Kaitlyn Dwyer, Kennishia Boahene and Rhiannon Cobb
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.
Kaitlyn Dwyer is an educator with the Greater Essex County District School Board in Windsor, Ontario and runs an after-school program for youth in at-risk neighbourhoods for the YMCA of Southwestern Ontario. Working in different schools, Kaityln witnessed a decline in children interested in reading. Kaitlyn’s initial goal was to make books more accessible to children living in lower-income neighbourhoods so that everyone could fall in love with reading.
Project READ stands for Rewarding Experiences, Adventures and Discoveries – all things you get from reading. Most of the first six months of Kaitlyn’s project were focused on planning. This included building relationships with local bookstores in Windsor- Essex, working with local groups to build Little Free Libraries, rallying book donations from local community members and above all, making sure the children were a part of the process by helping to make information posters to helping to paint and assemble all of the Little Free Libraries.
Some of the organizations involved in Kaitlyn’s projects are the Begley Public School’s YMCA Program, Drouillard Place Teen Center, and Sandwich Teen Action Group.
All the planning and community engagement have already seen much of the dividends pay off with eight participating schools taking part in Free Book Fairs, the completion of painting the final Little Free Libraries and finding excited readers for a swath of books of all shapes, sizes and colours.
I Can Be
Kennishia Boahene is a proud Ghanaian Canadian born and raised in Hamilton, Ontario. Kennishia desires to create more avenues for youth to harness their potential and overcome the challenges that may stand in the way of their goals. Her current work centres around social justice, youth advocacy, dispute resolution, community-centred action and reducing barriers within our education system for equity deserving students. She’s also been able to pursue a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from McMaster University and a Master in Peace and Conflict Studies from the University of Waterloo.
Kennishia’s project “I Can Be,” is being developed as a youth offenders rehabilitation program built on three core pillars: mental health and well-being, job recruitment and preparation, and conflict resolution training. The goals of the program are:
- To provide holistic support that addresses the core of individual needs, both immediate and long-term
- To address the gaps in existing support programs and improve service delivery through a culturally relevant lens
- To help youth break the cycle of becoming repeat offenders
- To create a support program that youth offenders feel seen, heard and validated in, to increase participation rates and sustainable outcomes.
Between August 2021 and February 2022, Kennishia has been able to bring together community collaborators and create a solid strategy for engagement. She held multiple focus groups and conducted surveys and interviews with past and present youth offenders, family and friends of youth offenders, as well as professionals in the field. She then brought all relevant data together to assess and analyze. She was also able to enhance her network by presenting a pilot program to Hamilton Jail and identifying how measures of success will be determined over at least one year.
While still pulling in data from survey responses, over the next few months the wheels will be moving to identify a system for program design, solicit strong partnerships and strengthen community awareness. A mini-documentary about ‘I Can Be’ to help present her findings is also in the works. The goal is by August 2022, to have a full program design complete and ready for a proof-of-concept pilot.
Park Bench Poetry Project
Rhiannon is a graduate student at York University studying spatial theory and poetry. This unique intersection of study has inspired her to use the Ontario Community Changemakers grant to host a series of community-based poetry workshops for queer youth across Toronto.
Rhiannon has been asking difficult questions through art like Who are spaces really built for? What assumptions do we make about inclusive spaces? And what does it mean to feel welcome in a space? Through art, writing and performance, they have been working with like-minded folks across Toronto to question and rebuild safe and accepting spaces assisted through creative writing, poetry and installation art.
Rhiannon’s plans for the summer include hosting a series of creative writing workshops for at-risk youth. using their experience as a workshop facilitator, having recently undergone an intensive training module with the Writers Collective of Canada (WCC). Using skills gained in creative writing and workshop facilitation, they will amplify the work produced by at-risk youth by displaying their poetry at participating institutions like public libraries.
Their goal is to hold the workshops in June/July so that the participants’ art can be displayed outside over the summer and into September. The workshops are based around the final display of poems where participants will be able to see their own art represented in Toronto’s spaces.