20 May Changemaker Spotlight: Updates from #OCChangemakers Natalie Tyson, Mitchell House, and Nithursan Elamuhilan
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.
STEAM Family Camps
St. Thomas, ON
Natalie Tyson is a Registered Early Childhood Educator (RECE) from St.Thomas, Ontario. In the final year of her Bachelor of Early Childhood Leadership program at Fanshawe College, she hopes to become an early childhood teacher. As part of her course, she interned with the STEAM Education Centre, where she was able to apply her knowledge and enthusiasm for science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM) education to develop programs for the community.
During the pandemic, Natalie saw and heard how the community’s most vulnerable families felt disconnected from events, services, and each other. Through her project known as STEAM Family Camps, in collaboration with the STEAM Education Centre, she will create camps that will allow families the opportunity to engage in interactive, hands-on learning experiences together with the community. She hopes the interactive skill-building STEAM-based activities will allow individuals to express their creative side, lift their spirits and bring the community together. STEAM Family Camp activities will be held four times a year at local parks and community centres and will be completely free of charge to the families. Families will be led through a day of collaborative STEAM projects and provided with a STEAM Kit full of hands-on activities to continue the creativity and creating at home.
Natalie faced a few challenges trying to implement her camps, but she found creative ways to overcome them. The camps were originally planned to start in October but with the rise in covid cases, Natalie had to push back the camps to this summer. There was also an issue with some of the supplies she had ordered for her camps. When she didn’t receive them, she decided to recycle materials from her home and reached out to the community to collect supplies from them. This gave her a unique opportunity to be more environmentally friendly as well as get the whole community involved.
Natalie is currently busy planning for the STEAM camps that will be held this summer, on topics such as weather science, water cycles and rainbows!
Expanding Active Transportation Connectivity for Tanglewood
Mitchell House is a 28-year-old environmentalist from Ottawa, Ontario, residing in the neighbourhood of Tanglewood with his wife and dog. With a background in Environmental Engineering, Mitchell has an enthusiastic passion for environmental stewardship and sustainability issues. Over the past year, Mitchell has focused on encouraging more people within his community to participate in modes of active transit to meet their daily needs. With his excitement around active transportation, specifically cycling, he has been able to establish the Expanding Active Transportation Connectivity for Tanglewood project. This grant has enabled him to foster a sense of community in Tanglewood while further working towards providing public access to the daily amenities and services those within the community need access to.
Within the first six months of receiving his grant, Mitchell has been able to build a strong working partnership with a local organization to help get the word out about his initiative. This has quickly led to several strategic event planning meetings being set up and a series of planned events being laid out for the spring of 2022. This partnership has also given him the unique opportunity to reach out and connect with high school-aged youth groups better, and sees these groups having a strong role in influencing their parents and friends to participate in active engagement activities. While building out his engagement plan, Mitchell has also had a chance to engage with his local councillor while coincidingly working on building a volunteer roster to help support his initiative.
While community interest in his active transit initiative has been hard to get at times, those that have been engaged with him on the neighbourhood level have been extremely interested in supporting his project. Due to challenges in active travel during the winter season, he has found it hard to promote some of his activities during harsher seasons, thereby leading him to quickly pivot his approach around active transit by working with the community association and Community Resource Centre to develop a strategy for active transit events that could take place in the spring. These include an Arbor Day activity focused on tree planting, the opening of a community garden, and after-school events being hosted at his local Community Center. In an effort to get his project off the ground, Mitchell has also faced a series of challenges in planning in-person events given the COVID-19 restrictions in his area, the closing of schools, cancelling of sports groups, and blockades being experienced within his city. However, these setbacks have helped give him additional time to prepare for the eventual re-opening and return to normality in the Spring, which should create a better environment to host his active transit events.
In the next six months, Mitchell plans to launch a series of public events to engage with local community members. This will grant him a better understanding of the interests and needs that the community desires and will equip him with critical information that will help him make informed decisions on the expansion of active transportation within Tanglewood. Mitchell will also be building a list of volunteers that can spread the word amongst their local networks, which can put additional pressure on the City Councilor to support the community vision. He will also be looking to reach out to other active transportation groups such as Bike Ottawa, Participaction, and Ecology Ottawa, which will allow him to work in collaboration with the engagements, activities, and other events they are also planning within the community.
Nithursan, born and raised in Scarborough, is a data analyst, photographer and cyclist involved in community projects that use photography to put a spotlight on stories and issues around him. His project ‘itsneerby’ focuses on highlighting the history of parks and public green spaces in Scarborough, Toronto, through photos on a web map. In addition to the web map, Nithursan is also developing an app based on augmented reality (AR) that will show historical photos of photos overlaid on its present location. With this project, Nithursan wants to tell his fellow Scarborough and Toronto residents – ‘History is all around us, it’s nearby.’
Nithursan is currently developing the web map based on a former open-source project. Once the code is complete, Nithursan plans to share it publicly on GitHub – itsneerby/oldto: Historic Images of Toronto. The pandemic created a few challenges for Nithursan. One of the main sources of information and images for itsneerby is the City Archives. While a lot of photos are available online, many of the photographs required for itsneerby still need to be digitized. With the lockdowns brought about by the pandemic, it was a challenge to access these photos. It was also a challenge to get information from other contacts like Scarborough residents and Scarborough Archives through email. To overcome this, Nithursan reached out to and maintained contacts at larger public institutions that would have more capacity to respond to his queries.
In the meantime, Nithursan was able to create a digital identity for the project. He created social media channels, and marketing materials, including a logo and a branding guide as well as a website – itsneerby.ca after taking a course provided by ‘Our Wave Hub’. He was selected as a mentee to participate in a photo exhibit called ‘Resilience’ as part of the City of Toronto’s Culture Hotspot Program. Here, he was able to engage with the community, exhibit his work and get a taste of launching a project.
In the upcoming months, he plans to introduce the AR-based app and plan and host a public event in the form of an outdoor gallery.