Waterloo youth solve community challenges at GreenHouse virtual showcase

Thursday, June 18, 2020
by Sarah Ghandour

On June 2, GreenHouse hosted the Youth Innovation Showcase, a virtual capstone event for the Youth Innovation Program. This virtual showcase highlighted the innovative solutions developed by 27 youth from across the Waterloo region. These solutions served as answers to challenges identified by the three host organizations: Carizon, Reception House (RH) and the Volunteer Action Centre (VAC). 

This cohort of the program for non-postsecondary youth began last January, with the support of the Lyle S. Hallman Foundation and has adapted its operation since inception. Starting in mid-March, the program has fully transitioned its in-person sessions online and successfully engaged host organizations virtually, as youth innovators were not going to let a pandemic stop them.

“I found that the skills I developed were the most valuable because I am able to implement them in my daily life, whether it be for personal, or service,” said Deepika, a youth from the program. “It helped me to enhance my community experiences and I believe that it will help me in my post-secondary and work life.”

The event kicked off with an overview of the program and lessons learned from adapting to the COVID-19 context. A partner of the program, Ilona Dougherty, co-creator and managing Director of the Youth & Innovation Project, shared why youth innovators are the driving force behind this program.

“We found that young people’s brains are wired for innovation. Being 15 to 25 years old is a really interesting and important time of life. Research tells us that young people are collaborative, they’re creative, they’re willing to challenge the status quo and they’re more observant. This makes them really well-positioned to be innovators and to be the innovation engine of our organizations but also within our society,” said Dougherty. 

Anne Filion, GreenHouse’s Design and Innovation Coordinator who manages the Youth Innovation Program, facilitated the presentations as well as the question and answer segments. Each student team was given five minutes to present their challenge, host organization, key learnings, solutions and next steps for their projects. These remarkable young people presented the following attainable and impactful solutions for each host organization:

Group 1 - Variety of Organizational Hosts

Challenge and Solution: This group is garnering community support to reduce the stigma around physical disability. Their solutions include a storybook and animation, which highlight individuals with disabilities positively. These mediums will include an associated lesson plan for teachers, which can be utilized in classrooms to frame disabilities positively and foster impactful conversations.

Next Steps: This team is seeking funding for book fabrication and distribution to schools and support from experts in animating their video. 

animation of boy about to run a race

Group 2 - Volunteer Action Centre

Challenge and Solution: This group focused on promoting volunteerism, clearly and effectively to youth audiences. They created a short, youth-focused slideshow, highlighting the benefits of volunteering, which they will share on virtual classrooms and school social media accounts. This solution will eventually evolve into a promotional video and presentations covering the same topics.

Next Steps: When the slideshows and video are finalized with VAC, this team will continue to reach out to various schools and organizations throughout the region to share these resource materials.

Group 3 - Reception House

Challenge and Solution: This group is increasing access to education for youth who are newcomers to Canada. They are creating an online program to connect other youth with newcomers by hosting weekly meetings and implementing events such as conversation circles to provide newcomer youth with the socialization usually accessed through the education system.

Next Steps: They are currently finalizing marketing materials for their program and will begin hosting meetings with youth. Their goal is to create a safe and fun environment for newcomers and non-newcomers to interact.

Group 4 - Carizon

Challenge and Solution: This team is focusing on improving the distribution and tracking process for bus tickets provided to Carizon’s clients. They created a web application, which enables Carizon employees to issue digital tickets and store ticket distribution information and data. 

Next Steps: Before deployment of their solution, the group would like to integrate features and functionality with the Grand River Transit System.

ticketing web application system

Group 5 - Volunteer Action Centre

Challenge and Solution: This group was looking for better ways to manage and communicate with volunteers to reduces absences. Their solution is to create a comprehensive volunteer engagement strategy for VAC. They pair this approach with creating a youth volunteer website, where youth volunteers can log in and track their volunteering activities.  

Next Steps: The group has built a complete guide on managing and posting content targeted at youth for VAC. They are in the process of building the youth volunteer website.

Group 6 - Carizon

Challenge and Solution: This group is focusing on improving Carizon’s social media presence and enhancing their connections with youth. To do this they are creating a set of online social media workshops for staff. These workshops will be implemented by a youth social media committee and will contribute to program-level social media strategies.

Next Steps: This group is continuing to build out their workshop materials and will implement these training sessions when they are finalized with Carizon and other organizations interested. 

social media workshop idea on slideshow

GreenHouse is fortunate and excited to still have the opportunity to provide such an impactful experience to youth during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are exceptionally proud of each team and what we’ve achieved in the Youth Innovation Program,” said Filion. “These young people can feel proud of the skills they gained in teamwork, leadership and adaptability. These were not only applicable projects, they can and will be implemented in the community to have real impacts and implications.”

GreenHouse will continue supporting these students until their projects conclude, and participants will receive reference letters and continued access to mentorship.

If you would like to support these innovative projects or the development of the Youth Innovation Program, please contact Tania Del Matto.

Thank you to the Lyle S. Hallman Foundation, Canada Service Corps., UWaterloo’s Youth & Innovation Project, Carizon, Reception House and the Volunteer Action Centre in supporting GreenHouse in its first Youth Innovation Program.