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From the OJEN Blog

Youth Leadership Team (YLT) members share their experiences with Together 180

An important factor contributing to the success of OJEN’s programs for youth is the involvement of a Youth Leadership Team (YLT). YLT members are hired from the communities where pilot programs are offered, and can be involved in various stages of a pilot program. From development through delivery and evaluation, input from YLT members helps make our programs accessible and relevant for our youth audiences.

For three of the YLT members hired for OJEN’s new Together 180 program, Brandon, Jaydn and Andre, the position has offered both challenges and rewards.

Together 180 is a pilot program designed for youth in custody and on probation. This multi-session program focuses on skill building and navigating areas of law, such as housing and employment, that most affect young people during reintegration.

All three YLT members have come to their positions from backgrounds in advocacy and social activism.

Backgrounds in social activism

While in highschool, Andre facilitated equity workshops for youth and worked with the Toronto District School Board to address systemic racism issues. He went on to study political science in university.

From his time as a music instructor with the City of Toronto, Brandon brings experience in youth mentorship. Becoming a father recently has given him fresh determination to work for social justice.

Jaydn attributes her community involvement to her mother’s influence. Her childhood, in and out of care, led to her passion for advocating for racialized youth in the child welfare system.

Andre, Brandon and Jaydn encountered OJEN for the first time as participants in Legal Artivism, a justice education program for young artists from racialized communities, led by RISE Edutainment.

When OJEN offered these young people an opportunity to help us develop and deliver Together 180, they signed on this fall, helping to deliver the program to two groups of youth in detention at the Roy McMurtry Youth Centre (RMYC). Twenty-three youth between the ages of 14 and 21 participated in the sessions that took place remotely, due to Covid-19 measures.

Overcoming the challenges of remote facilitation

Remote facilitation was one of the most challenging aspects of the experience, according to the team. As Jaydn noted, not seeing the participants’ faces meant they couldn’t read the room. It made it difficult to discern how engaged the youth were with the material.

However, the RMYC youth participants kept coming back for each session. Many had signed up for the program after hearing positive reports from youth who had participated in a previous session. Over time, a rapport developed between the RMYC youth and the program facilitators.

As Andre observed, “I think the consistency of meeting with a team of caring adults is so valuable for the youth. It’s clear by their responses that the encouragement and opportunities we share with them are important. They are excited to see our faces on camera, and take the activities and games seriously, celebrating their wins when they get questions correct. When offered the opportunity to connect with the legal professionals on the call, the boys were very excited and willing.”

Feedback from the RMYC youth

In the final session, guests from the legal and community sectors as well as representatives from government were invited to meet the youth. Participants had the opportunity to share their thoughts and suggestions regarding supports that would help them reintegrate into the community.

The session was well received by both the RMYC youth participants and guests. The youth were very engaged and provided thoughtful feedback.

“Youth know what they want,” commented Jaydn. “They let us know that being part of a community is important to them. Access to community-based support that would help them access programs and opportunities would make their reintegration process easier.”

At the end of the program at RMYC, the YLT reflected on its value, both to the youth participants and to themselves.

“By the end of the program the youth said they were more confident about talking to their lawyers,” Brendon reported. “They felt more confident about advocating for themselves and finding resources by themselves. They told us they had a better idea of what to expect when they were released. They were all interested in getting more education.”

Takeaways for the YLT

Jaydn appreciated the insight she got into what was important to youth. She also gained a deeper understanding of the behind-the-scenes work that went into organizing each of the sessions.

Brandon reported learning more about leadership through the experience. “Preparation is the key to being ready to answer questions and share knowledge.”

Andre reflected on how participation in the program has also impacted him, sharing, “It’s been a truly heartwarming experience to work with so many professionals who are genuinely caring and committed to ameliorating this violent legal system. Working with the youth in this capacity has also challenged my personal perceptions and opened my heart. I’m grateful for this experience.”

Together 180 receives funding from the Department of Justice Canada’s Youth Justice Fund. It is delivered in partnership with the Ministry of Children, Community, and Social Services (MCCSS) and other community partners. Since January of 2021, OJEN has piloted the program with eight groups of youth in four different youth detention facilities in Ontario. A ninth program begins this week at the Roy McMurtry Youth Centre.

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