23 Nov #OCChangemakers 2021-2022 Project Highlights: Tennesha, Natalie and Meliha
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.
Are You Afraid of The Dark? You’re not alone.
Tennesha Joseph, Toronto
Description, Goals, & Community Impact
According to the 2022 Perceptions of Public Spaces After-Dark survey, more than 50% of women/girls surveyed said they were unlikely to visit outdoor public spaces at night. The top three reasons are fear of violence & harassment, low foot traffic and poor lighting & visibility. For women, the perception of safety in public spaces impacts how freely women can move through cities. For centuries, men have almost entirely designed and shaped our cities. The absence of women’s voices, unique perspectives, and lived experiences in the planning of our cities has created streets, buildings and public spaces that are missing elements they value or need to feel safe. From the lack of women’s public washrooms to poorly lit streets, cities haven’t been built entirely with women & girls in mind.
The constant fear of dangerous men often leads women to avoid certain spaces, especially at specific times. Are You Afraid of the Dark T.O.? envisions ways to empower young women and girls to be present in public spaces after dark by providing new public seating and lighting sources. The project began with the desire to help women and girls reclaim space and show that we belong in the public realm
Highlights, Successes, & Challenges
Their first installation was held in Vivian Lane, a laneway in Brampton, ON, along with Brampton’s annual Take Back The Night event. The laneway was transformed with quirky LED-light seating, music, and music refreshments. Their second installation took place in Kitchener, ON, at Kitchener’s first-ever pop-up park on King Street right outside City Hall! With more of these installations, they hope perceptions of safety within the chosen public space are improved and there is an increased presence of young women and girls in the evening and at night.
“I’ve had my fair share of ups and downs this past year. Some of my first successes with my project included creating a logo and project rendering, starting an Instagram account for the project (@afraidofthedarkto), hiring a volunteer social media coordinator and launching our official website“, tells Tennesha. Some other exciting highlights of the project include conducting a research survey, working with a journalist to do a piece on the project, and meeting with a representative of the Downtown Brampton BIA to discuss a collaboration for the Activate Downtown Brampton project.
Given that this was Tennesha’s first time managing a project independently, she experienced some typical challenges in project management, like setting clear goals and the project’s scope, budgeting, and time management. Her biggest challenge, however, was finding how to prioritize her mental health amidst project deadlines, work and personal life. She implemented more workable timelines to work around the challenges and limited the project’s scope.
As she completes one year as an Ontario Community Changemaker, Tennesha has learned much about herself and the career she’d like to pursue.
“While working on my project, I developed a passion for inclusive public space design and park planning. As a leader/project manager, I learned that sometimes I am too overly ambitious, leading me to set unrealistic expectations and timelines for myself. As a woman of colour practicing in a largely male-dominated profession (urban planning), the tendency to second guess my abilities is almost second nature. I learned to take risks and be more confident in my ideas. This past year as a changemaker taught me that I want to continue to be a part of creating tangible change in communities by centring their voices and lived experiences in the design process”.
To learn more, visit: Are You Afraid of the Dark T.O.? website
STEAM Family Camps
Natalie Tyson, St. Thomas
STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering, art, and math. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, families and children became disconnected from the services and one another. Because of this, STEAM Family Camps was created to give children from ages 4-12 and their families learning opportunities in the STEAM field. It was also designed as a way for families to meet one another and discover the resources and organizations within St.Thomas. STEAM Family Camps were designed to be engaging, family-friendly, based in the community, and cost-free. The whole idea was for the entire family to participate regardless of age. “I strived to have it inclusive and incorporate local organizations, including the STEAM Education Centre, Elgin County Railway Museum, and the St.Thomas Public Library”, says Natalie Tyson.
Throughout the development of these camps, most individuals were unaware of what STEAM education was. Many of these families are unaware of how STEAM is a crucial component of the education system, and they were anxious to support their children. Through her project, Natalie wanted to ensure those families were confident in supporting their child(ren) to learn about STEAM at school. Most STEAM programs are targeted at ages 7-12, not often in the early years. She wanted to ensure children 4-6 also got the opportunity to explore STEAM and develop a passion.
Highlights, Successes, & Challenges
Like with any project, there will inevitably be obstacles and successes. The COVID-19 pandemic was one of the main challenges for this one. “I had originally planned for the camps to take place in October, but COVID-19 forced a change of plans to put them in the summer. Finding the correct numbers to guarantee that every child and family would be protected during the pandemic was a constant challenge”, reflects the Changemaker. However, it was a big success! Both day camps were sold out a week after registration opened. The events were well attended, and the project goals were met. Natalie only observed smiles and joy from the families in both camps and all the children having a great time.
“I discovered that even one individual might influence the lives of others. Since the camps, the families have been emailing me to report that their children are still talking about it. I had no idea how much of an influence one interaction with someone or one event could have on a child, especially if that child is excluded from these experiences. I discovered that just because you have a setback doesn’t mean you should give up; instead, you should learn to adjust to the situation and look for new ways to achieve your goals. Everyone’s abilities may be used to make the project wonderful; there is no primary leader for a project,” says Natalie.
As a changemaker, Natalie has discovered that it is gratifying to watch a seemingly small concept grow into something that is recognized by everyone in the community. Even one child’s inspiration is a great accomplishment. “It gives you the sense that you have done something worthwhile by assisting a young person in discovering a new interest, finding their voice, and realizing their full potential. Without the help of 8 80 Cities Ontario Community Changemakers Grant, STEAM Education Centre, St. Thomas Public Library and Elgin County Railway Museum, I wouldn’t be able to inspire and impact the community and families”, she says.
Meliha Horzum, Hamilton
In the year 2020, a group of environmentally conscious individuals decided to create change in the Hamilton Muslim community. After multiple planning sessions and dozens of meetings with spiritual and environmental leaders throughout the city, Project Green was born.
It has been almost two years since Project Green launched. The group’s initial goal was to support the Hamilton Mountain Mosque with green initiatives, such as the installation of water bottle refill fountains, advocacy to reduce plastic waste and litter cleanup. The group raised enough funds for two fountains and had a turnout of over 50 individuals at the litter cleanup event. The mosque director was so impressed with the group’s work that he invited them back to complete further initiatives, supporting the group with funding that year.
Upon receiving funds from 8 80 Cities through the Ontario Community Changemakers grant in 2021, the group hosted two tree planting events (through collaboration with Green Venture and Trees For Hamilton and attended by Christopher Cutler, advisor to the Mayor of Hamilton) as well as another litter pickup. The Children’s Committee at the Mountain Mosque has asked Project Green to organize a nature walk in September 2022. Project Green is also planning to work with the City of Hamilton to install bike racks at the front of the mosque and to advocate for the increased use of public transit to and from the mosque.
Highlights, Successes, & Challenges
That same year, the Islamic School of Hamilton (ISH) principal asked to collaborate with Project Green on initiatives to support students in grades 1-8. Through collaboration with Milk Bags Unlimited, the group taught students to weave milk bags into sleeping mats sent to individuals in developing countries. The students were so motivated to weave milk bags that they started their club at the school and ended up weaving three mats (each mat uses approximately 400-600 milk bags). Project Green then hosted a wildflower planting project, teaching students about the importance of pollinators in the community. The group has been asked to host an eco-science fair with the school in February of 2023.
Project Green was also invited to run a virtual workshop at a summer camp by Mishka Social Services. Students were provided birdhouses to paint, clay balls and milkweed seeds (the clay and seeds were provided through a partnership with Green Venture). Project Green team leads hosted a presentation about monarch butterflies and were even able to show the campers a real butterfly coming out of its chrysalis (through a collaboration with another Ontario Community Changemaker, Markham Pollinator Pathway).
“I have personally grown so much throughout the past year. Our events were filled with ups and downs, which I have learned to accept as a way of life when running such a large project. I have also learned to be much more open about accepting and asking for help from those around me; seeing how much work can get done when a strong team is behind you is always remarkable. Almost two years later, Project Green has formed partnerships with notable environmental groups in Hamilton, has an ever-growing social media presence, and has made a tremendous impact on the Hamilton Muslim community. This growth would not have been possible without the support of 880 Cities and the advice from all the fantastic mentors on the 8 80 team”, says Meliha.