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From the OJEN Blog

Bella Morina: Program Participant to Project Intern

Bella Morina has been on both sides of OJEN’s programming. As a single mother of two and full-time student in the Community and Justice Worker program at Humber College, she first encountered OJEN 7 years ago as a participant in our Family Law for Young Parents (FLYP) program. Now an OJEN Project Intern, she recently facilitated the same program for pregnant young women and new mothers at Jessie’s Centre, a pre and post-natal residential facility in Toronto.

OJEN’s FLYP program educates new and expecting parents about common family law issues they might encounter, such as decision-making responsibility, child support and legal aid. Through scenario-based learning, dialogue and interacting with family law professionals, participants develop the knowledge and legal life skills they need to advocate for themselves and navigate the justice system. They are also introduced to reliable sources of public legal information, including Community Legal Education Ontario (CLEO)’s Steps to Justice website

Bella recalls how empowering the program was for her. “Sometimes, when you’re in the middle of these situations, it’s so overwhelming, it’s so stressful. It’s hard to go looking for knowledge when you don’t even know what you’re looking for.”

Gaining an overview and deeper understanding of the legal processes she might face, was very helpful. Having the opportunity to meet and ask questions of family law professionals was also a highlight. “I really took to it and a lot of the other girls took to it and it became an open space where everyone was able to talk and open up about their experiences. I liked that!”

Over the next few challenging years, Bella applied what she had learned in the program to navigate her own family law case. She established a home for her two children and enrolled in a full-time college program. Throughout this time, she kept in touch with OJEN’s Director of Outreach Programs, Enisoné Kadiri, who she had connected with during the program. When she learned about a position for a Youth Leadership Team (YLT) member for the Together 180 (T180)  program, she knew it was something she wanted to do.

T180, a program for youth in custody or on probation, introduces young people to areas of law relevant to their lives after release, including Human Rights, Employment, Housing and Family Law. Participants learn about resources they can access in the community and make connections with lawyers and other justice sector professionals.

Bella’s initial role was observing and note-taking during T180 sessions. The experience confirmed for her that this is the field of work in which she belonged. 

“I know personally what it’s like to be a teenager and make mistakes and everyone gives up on you. It’s hard to come out of that. You have to have a strong mind. For me, I was lucky that I could push through a lot of adversity”.

Delivering the FLYP program this month at Jessie’s was a full circle moment for Bella. “I didn’t imagine I would ever be there again, but life is so funny!”

Over four sessions, she shared her own experiences about navigating the justice system and introduced the young women to family law professionals who could answer their questions. Having the opportunity to pass on information and resources that had helped her, made the experience fulfilling, Bella said. 

OJEN prioritizes giving young people like Bella the training and support to build leadership skills through paid work experience. Whenever possible, youth are engaged to collaborate with every aspect of programming, from design to delivery. The benefits go both ways. Youth acquire early career work experience while OJEN benefits from their fresh ideas and knowledge of unique communities.

Bella’s journey with OJEN began when she was a youth looking for information to help navigate a legal issue. Today, she is part of OJEN’s team, using her lived experience and OJEN training to help others navigate their own legal issues. Looking back over this journey, Bella reflects, “Now I’m doing what I love. I’m doing something positive. I’m doing something that I know will help. It can be life changing in a positive way, I hope. I look forward to being involved again.”

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