Community Living Ontario’s youth leadership initiative Re:Action4Inclusion continues to develop a strong network of young people that are committed to advocating for and alongside their peers who have an intellectual disability, both inside and outside the classroom.
A key component in creating awareness around advocacy is the Re:Action4Inclusion conference, held annually in Orillia. This year’s event, which takes place on November 20th to the 22nd, will provide students with a weekend of networking, exciting guest speakers and workshops that enables them to become powerful agents of change in their own communities.
Many of Community Living Ontario’s member associations, like South-East Grey Support Services and Community Living Grimsby, Lincoln and West Lincoln, support young people to attend the conference and see it as an opportunity for youth to become engaged in the conversation around inclusion.
“They can create change in the culture of their school and that change does not have to be created strictly by school boards, principals or teachers, but can be achieved by the students themselves,” saysMarsha Ferguson, Executive Assistant with South-East Grey Support Services.
She says that by participating in the conference, students are engaging with their peers and gaining a perspective that they may not have experienced otherwise. Ferguson adds that students soon realize that there are others also wanting to influence the way that society views individuals with a disability.
“With having the experience of meeting youth leaders that have been diagnosed with a disability and seeing how successful they are, once given the opportunity to succeed, the students are able to see the potential that all youth have, with or without a disability.”
Debra Grieve-Knight, Community Partnership Coordinator with Community Living Grimsby, Lincoln and West Lincoln, says her association actively connects with secondary schools to promote the Re:Action4Inclusion conference and encourages students to participate.
Over the years, Grieve-Knight says they have sponsored more than 40 students to attend the conference, because it brings together high school students from across the province and challenges them to look closely at how attitudes and actions shape a community.
“This conference also inspires youth to be the catalyst that promotes positive changes of the attitudes and actions in their community. Our agency is honoured to have the opportunity to support the Re:Action4Inclusion movement and proud to be a part of empowering youth to make important and positive societal change.”
Ferguson says students in her area that participated in last year’s conference are working on change projects at Grey Highlands Secondary School in Flesherton and inspiring others to become more inclusive.
“They have taken what they have learned from the conference and worked together to create a more inclusive and welcoming environment within their school, as well as to help educate their peers. These change projects are creating a domino effect, inspiring others to also become more inclusive.”
She feels strongly that without having attended the conference, students would not have been as inspired or driven to make this change or have had the tools to know how to become youth advocates.
Grieve-Knight says students from her area returned from the conference with a new outlook on equality, rights, respect and dignity.
“Our agency feels that by supporting Re:Action4Inclusion, we are making an immediate positive impact in our community and are laying the groundwork that will shape the future. The conference can inspire the youth in their community to individually and collectively promote inclusion and to be part of a movement that is focused on students working together to strive for an educational experience that truly recognizes and celebrates the abilities of all students.”
Ferguson, a Re:Action4Inclusion ally who has attended the conference in the past, finds it inspiring to witness the passion and drive of students that participate.
“Seeing students that are so excited about including their peers with a disability reinforces that the message being sent about inclusion from Community Living Ontario, as well as local associations is being heard by today’s youth.”
For information on programming, accommodations, guest speakers and to register for the Re:Action4Inclusion conference, contact La Toya Morgan, Provincial Youth Development Coordinator at 416-447-4348 ext. 249 or visit the conference website by clicking here.
– Ron Laroche, Community Living Ontario
Check out the video message from Re:Action4Inclusion guest speaker, Carlos Taguba of Ill Skillz.