Investing in youth, a worthwhile commitment
Located in rural Southern Ontario, Haldimand-Norfolk spans over 3,000 square kilometres. The region is home to Community Living Access Support Services, Norfolk Association for Community Living, Community Living Haldimand, Community Living Six Nations, Haldimand Norfolk REACH and nine high schools. All see the value in youth engagement and empowerment.
“Working together with our partners, the schools and youth has been our biggest success,” said Patricia Morris, Executive Director of Community Living Access when asked about the importance of supporting youth engagement in her community. Patricia noticed that Haldimand-Norfolk students came back charged, full of energy and innovative ideas after attending Re:Action4Inclusion, a leadership initiative that empowers youth with and without a disability to make schools and communities more inclusive spaces.
Youth gained confidence and awareness of what true inclusion means. “They came back ready to make a change” she expressed. “Youth are natural leaders and we wanted to give them an opportunity to make a difference in the community.”
To feed the momentum, the five organizations identified staff allies to support students directly in their schools. The first year, a video was produced to promote the importance of inclusion for all. It was shared in three of the local high schools. As the years passed, more students would share their Re:Action4Inclusion experience with their friends, which led to more and more change projects popping-up across the region.
Among other examples, some students used handprints on a large banner with the words “Can you see the disability?” to showcase that there are more similarities than we think. Students have brought in guest speakers, painted benches, created hand-books and hosted pep rallies with the goal to promote inclusion for all.
More recently a network of 25 students from six local high schools, meet regularly to discuss new ideas and ways to be more inclusive. All projects are youth-driven with minimal support from adult allies. Youth also present their change projects to the Board of Directors and local community leaders. This is an important piece, as it demonstrates support from the leaders.
This year, with the help of their local Lions and Lioness Service Clubs, the organizations sponsored 22 youth who will be attending the Re:Action4Inclusion Summit taking place this weekend in London, Ontario.
Patricia encourages others to see the value, the energy and the long-lasting impact youth bring to the table. Investing in youth is a commitment, Patricia Morris recognizes but feels strongly that it’s a worthwhile one.