OJEN’s Department of Outreach Programs is a busy place. At any given time staff may be developing, delivering, evaluating or adapting several different justice education programs. Outreach Programs staff respond to the needs of a variety of vulnerable youth populations, providing content on different areas of law that is not only relevant and substantive, but engaging and fun. Working collaboratively with community organizations, as well as recruiting and managing hundreds of justice sector volunteers, are also part of the job description. It is challenging work and the OJEN staff who do it, are passionate about it.
Earlier this year OJEN’s long time Director of Outreach Programs, Mara Clarke, left the position to pursue new challenges and work with OJEN on a part-time basis. We faced the difficult prospect of finding a new director who combined a strong legal background, organizational wizardry, and passion for promoting the legal capability of youth. From among the extremely qualified applicants, Simone Samuels stood out as exceptional. In April, OJEN welcomed her as our new Director of Outreach Programs.
A graduate of the Faculty of Law at McGill University, Simone articled with the Department of Justice Canada, Human Rights Law Section and the Professional Responsibility Service in Ottawa. Before being hired by OJEN she was a Wellness Advisor at Justice Canada and was employed as a Human Resources Advisor with the Department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada in the area of Employment Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.
During that time she volunteered with OJEN, helping to deliver a Youth-Police Dialogue (YPD) program for Francophone youth in Vanier (Ottawa). A year later, she volunteered for a second YPD program with the same community partner. Fluent in English and French, her bilingualism is a great asset for OJEN’s ability to deliver YPDs and other community-based programs in both official languages.
Simone considers her new position a perfect fit. While drawing on her legal background, she is excited to have the opportunity to work with youth and make use of her passion for teaching.
Simone believes that her decision to study law was influenced by her experience growing up as a daughter of immigrant parents.
“I went into law because I noticed that people who didn’t know about law were at a disadvantage,” she explains. “I thought that understanding law could help me protect myself and others. Although I eventually realized that I didn’t actually want to practice law, I feel in this position I can do exactly what I hoped I could do with my law degree. I wanted to use the law as a sword and a shield. Now I’m in a position to do just that.”
In her first weeks with OJEN, Simone hit the ground running. She joined Outreach staff at program sessions to get a first-hand look at current OJEN initiatives, including: Street Checks De-Coded – a City of Toronto funded program that explains the new Street Checks legislation to youth and front-line community workers; Youth-Police Dialogues – an Ontario Trillium Foundation funded program designed to improve youth-police relations in communities throughout Ontario; Newcomer Community Justice – another Ontario Trillium Foundation funded program that provides newcomer youth with information about everyday legal issues and builds their leadership skills; and a full day Student Law Symposium in Kingston, organized by the Kingston OJEN Committee.
“I learn new things every day,” Simone says. “Every time I go to a program I come away with a better understanding of an area of law I haven’t worked in before or find out about services available from a community organization we partner with.”
One aspect of working with OJEN that Simone especially appreciates is seeing the impact our programs have on the people who need it most.
“You actually see the impact you’re having while you’re doing the program,” she says. “It’s very rewarding.”
OJEN Executive Director, Jess Reekie, is delighted that Simone has come on board.
“We are fortunate to have someone as talented and passionate as Simone heading up OJEN’s work with vulnerable and marginalised youth. Her experience working with community and engaging young people, coupled with her background in the law and appreciation for the importance of public legal education, makes her a natural fit for the position.”
Please join us in welcoming Simone to the OJEN team!