Ontario map composed of dots, 20 pictures of changemakers pointed to their locations, occ logo on a white and pink background

First Edition of Ontario Community Changemakers Kicks Off!

By Jiya Benni, Project Manager, 8 80 Cities

Over two weekends in August 2021, 8 80 Cities brought 20 young community builders from Ashburn, Brampton, Hamilton, Lincoln, Markham, Ottawa, St. Thomas, Sudbury, Toronto and Windsor to a Virtual Studio to kick-off the first edition of Ontario Community Changemakers. For us at 8 80 Cities, it was a privilege and honour to bring these changemakers together. In a world where all gatherings have become virtual, the OCC Studio also went virtual. But even though the screens, one could feel the changemakers’ passion for their projects and commitment to their communities.  

From Ashburn, we had Erin Hayward whose project Revitalizing Our Sustenance Project (ROSP) provides Indigenous youth opportunities to learn about the importance of sustainable Haudenosaunee-focused agricultural practices while feeding their community. From Toronto, we had Moka Dawkins who plans to create a T-Time Love Box which includes a wig and a book for incarcerated trans inmates. From St. Thomas, we had Natalie Tyson who is developing STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math) Family Camps for her community’s most vulnerable families who felt disconnected from events, services and each other. We loved hearing the changemakers talk about their projects – there was such a sense of purpose and love towards their communities. By wanting to improve their communities, heal them and create a sense of belonging, the changemakers have already won our hearts. You can read more about the changemakers and their projects here. 

The Virtual Studio comprised of presentations and sessions by the team at 8 80 Cities Team as well as various speakers such as Gil Penalosa, Ange Loft, Paul Taylor, Ryan Lo, Daniel Rotsztain, Diane Roussin and alumni from the Emerging City Champions program such as Orlando Bailey, Rachel Hollar Umana and Weston Stroud. Amanda O’Rourke, Executive Director of 8 80 Cities gave a welcome presentation to the changemakers who also received technical modules prepared by the 8 80 Cities team along with our partners at Park People. The modules included ‘How to Plan and Budget Your Project’ by Jiya Benni, ‘Team Building and Management’ by Lanrick Bennett Jr., ‘Engaging & Co-Creating with Community’ by Jayne Armstrong, ‘Communications & Storytelling: Tools for Impact’ by Camila Uriona and Brandon Miles and ‘FUNdraising’ by Michelle Cutts at Park People.   

At the Virtual Studio, changemakers also heard from 8 80 Cities Chair and Founder Gil Penalosa who spoke about the urgent need for young city builders to be bold, brave and persistent in their efforts. They also heard from Ange Loft, an interdisciplinary performing artist, who talked about creating art projects with communities and showcasing them in public space and Paul Taylor, Executive Director of FoodShare who spoke about environmental racism and about the importance of dismantling capitalism, cis-hetero patriarchy, white supremacy and colonialism to help us solve the inequities of our times. Ryan Lo, the co-founder of Urban Minds, an organization that is focused on engaging with youth to shape equitable and sustainable cities, spoke about his journey building the organization. Daniel Rotsztain, artist, writer and cartographer talked about his project plazaPOPS, which created public spaces with seating and landscape on parking lots through a community design process and Diane Roussin, Project Director of The Winnipeg Boldness Project talked about centring Indigenous wisdom and using social innovation tools to create systems change.   

We were also joined by Orlando Bailey, Rachel Hollar Umana and Weston Stroud, alumni of Emerging City Champions. Orlando spoke about his time as an ECC Champion in 2015 and his journey as a journalist and storyteller. Rachel, who was also an ECC Champion in 2015, spoke about her journey building Bike Macon that grew from a small community group to a fully established non-profit in Macon, Georgia. Weston Stroud, ECC Champion in 2020, spoke about how he was able to work with the community and activate it with events using the grant funds.   

The Ontario Community Changemakers is a leadership development and micro-grant program created for Ontario residents aged 19-35 with innovative ideas that activate public space, enhance civic engagement and/or foster social inclusion. Participants receive $5000 in seed funding to implement one community project in one year. The program is run by 8 80 Cities with funding and support from Balsam Foundation.  

We wish all the changemakers the very best and look forward to supporting them in their journeys. 

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