Changemaker Spotlight: Updates from #OCChangemakers Leah Walker, Meliha Horzum and Erin Hayward

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 to learn more.

Leah Walker
Lavender  Ceramics: 2SLGBTQIA+ Youth Introduction to Pottery
Hamilton, ON

#socialinclusion #queerart

Leah Walker is a trans/non-binary artist working with ceramics, fibre, and paint in the community of the Hamilton/Attawonderonk area.

Leah’s project, Lavender Ceramics: 2SLGBTQIA+ Youth Introduction to Pottery, seeks to provide a wellness space for queer youth with the creative outlet of working with clay. Participants will gain a foundation of knowledge of ceramics practices while building community.

The first six months of the program were dedicated to funding sourcing and planning. By working with the Dundas Valley School of Art where the program is being housed, and the Ontario Community Changemakers (OCC), they were able to secure enough funding for the program to continue for four 8-week sessions of 15 students.

Leah hired an art-based psychotherapist from the Toronto Institute for Art Therapy to support the wellness aspect of the program and leveraged the funding to provide an opportunity to hire other queer artists to assist with program writing. The program will run from April 24, 2022 – June 12, 2022 at the Dundas Valley School of Art. To advertise the program, Leah distributed posters to high school and post-secondary institutions as well as queer community programs.

Since this is Leah’s first foray into long-term program planning, many of their challenges came from learning what needs to be in place in terms of the bureaucracy of the program (e.g., insurance, space overhead, registration activities). Despite these challenges, Leah has received a lot of support during the planning process, especially from the DVSA executive director, Claire Loughheed, who has been a force of enthusiasm and guidance. The planning process also gave local queer artists an opportunity to help shape this program and activated the institution of Dundas Valley School of Art as an accessible space for the queer community.

To learn more about 2SLGBTQIA+ Youth Introduction to Pottery, follow them on Facebook and Instagram.

Meliha Horzum
Project Green
Hamilton, ON

#civicengagement #environment

Meliha Horzum is a first-year Speech-Language Pathology student at the University of Toronto. Meliha started Project Green after noticing that the Muslim community in her city of Hamilton needed support when it comes to starting environmental initiatives but that they are overjoyed to be a part of them. Thus, Project Green aims to get young Muslims more passionate about their environment and the impact they make. By motivating the youth who may share what they learn with their parents, the project has the potential to create a ripple effect in the Muslim community.

Although the community partners have been a little less responsive when it comes to projects and require more probing when working on a project, Meliha and her team have made great progress. Within the first six months, she was able to complete two tree planting events and started a milk bag weaving group in the Islamic school in Hamilton. The project’s hard-working volunteers complete monthly Instagram posts. Lastly, Meliha has collaborated with the group Mishka Social Services to guest star at their summer camp during “green week” in collaboration with fellow #OCChangemaker Cheryl Liu.

The community is very excited to join their events, whether it be online or in person. Her project has brought in a lot of younger children who are happy with their work and are motivated to work harder to make a positive environmental impact. This positive response supports the project’s goal of getting the youth to carry on the mission of taking care of our planet.

Meliha’s next steps for the project involve a seminar about how health care workers can reduce their ecological footprint, a milk bag weaving group in the mosque, an installation of a bike rack at the mosque, a pollination collaboration with #OCChangemaker Cheryl, and maintenance of the trees planted in Fall.

To learn more about Project Green, follow them on Facebook and Instagram.

Erin Hayward
Revitalizing Our Sustenance Project
Six Nations of the Grand River Territory

#foodsovereignity #indigenousagriculture

Erin Hayward is Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) on her paternal side and mixed European (Irish, British & German) on her mother’s side and was born and raised in Scarborough, Ontario. Erin’s project, Revitalizing Our Sustenance Project (ROSP), was created in May 2020 in light of the COVID-19 pandemic due to the scarcity of on-reserve food access and community programming/awareness surrounding agriculture and plant life. The project began as an avenue for getting youth involved in producing food for the Six Nations of Grand River Territory and has led to the creation of this Indigenous food, seed sovereignty, and land restoration-focused programming.

The long-term goals for this project are land restoration and revitalizing plant life, seed saving and community access to seeds, community food access and community engagement in learning sustainable agriculture, awareness and education on agriculture, climate change effects, and environmental restoration, as well as building resources for land-based learning and awareness.

Erin had the opportunity to spend some time with Elva Jamieson, one of the Cayuga Faithkeepers, to learn more about what needs to be done during the time of the Green Corn Moon. They harvested 180 cobs of green corn and then prepared them in three different ways which will be saved for community feasts. Throughout the harvest season, her team hosted workshops every single weekend to give youth in and around Six Nations the opportunity to get out on the land, learn how to harvest, braid, and cook a few different dishes with their traditional white corn. They also started creating videos of online cooking classes and did food drop-offs to places such as the elderly care home in Six Nations. Erin hopes to learn how to prepare some of the foods using green corn in their future cooking classes. The project has already made a huge impact attracting many people within the community and from Ottawa, Brantford, Toronto, and Durham to support their project and access their traditional foods.

As Erin and her team move forward with the project, they plan to start their seeds for the upcoming year. Recognizing their challenge of planting too large of a garden with a small group, they have decided to dial it back a bit and focus on the necessities. With the recruitment of new team members done, they are planning for the future of their grassroots group. Erin will also be attending the first-ever Haudenosaunee Seed-keeping school to learn as much as she can so she can bring it back to the group and share her learnings with the rest of her team.

To learn more about ROSP, check out their website and follow them on Facebook and Instagram.

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