Youth Innovators not Letting a Pandemic Stop them

Monday, May 11, 2020
by Susan Fish

With the announcements of widespread closures at the start of the March Break, GreenHouse’s Youth Innovation Program has had to be, well, innovative. Fortunately, both the students in the program, as well as the organizational hosts and the coordinator, Anne Filion, have risen to the challenge.

The program Connecting Newcomer Youth with GreenHouse Expertise in Social Innovation which began last November, with support from the Lyle S. Hallman Foundation, has seen 27 high school students come together to address the following challenges identified by the host organizations, Carizon, Reception House and the Volunteer Action Centre:

  • How might we manage and communicate with volunteers to reduce absences and increase long-term engagement? 
  • How might we restructure the way volunteering is framed or the volunteer positions available to be clear and more appealing?
  • How might we create access to education for newcomer children and youth who may not have access to the education and the school system right away?
  • Carizon’s programs provide bus tickets to youth to engage which takes a lot of time and money to organize. How might we help youth access Carizon programming in a more efficient and cost-effective way?
  • Carizon is looking to use social media as a main form of communication. However, its services cover a number of sensitive areas like violence, mental health etc. that require strict guidelines around confidentiality. How might we better use social media to connect with clients while respecting their right to confidentiality? 
  • There is often a culture of stigma surrounding physical disability, where people make assumptions about those with a visible disability. How might we use vibrant communities that challenge those assumptions (parasport etc.) to reduce the stigma around disability in Waterloo Region? 

In mid-March, the Youth Innovation Program moved its in-person sessions online, and tools were developed to facilitate learning, while also continuing to engage host organization representatives. Anne says, “It’s enhanced the program as I’ve gotten to know participants better and can tailor the program to their particular problems and needs.”

Despite the challenges of having to collaborate only online, the teams are thriving and continue to be motivated to make a difference. Although they may have to pivot in the way their solutions are executed, they are not letting a pandemic stop them. 

Josh Taylor-Detlor, a first year environment resources and sustainability student who is part of one of the groups says, “ This pandemic is testament to how the drive to make a difference is unstoppable in young people. GreenHouse has empowered us to make a difference. Everyone is still as motivated as they were on day one, and it’s remarkable how similar online and in-person meetings are. We are working on a project that will inform the work of the Volunteer Action Centre for years to come.”

Ria Menon, a grade 12 student at Huron Heights, says, “People in our group are more interactive and more focused on what others are saying in our video calls because they have fewer distractions than in person. We are now at the stage of narrowing down our best solution and altering it to fit pandemic conditions.”

wgs photo
wgs photo

Screen captures of some of the online pitches to host organizations

With one month to go before the final showcase of their projects, all participants met with staff from their host organizations as well as peer coaches and advisors connected with the GreenHouse community. During the two-hour virtual meeting, each student team presented their work to date, and received feedback from their peers and the other advisors. They also had the opportunity to listen to the host organizations describe the challenges and opportunities they are facing and anticipate due to the massive societal upheaval caused by COVID-19.

They will spend the next month refining their solutions together with the organizations they are designing solutions for, while still meeting weekly with Anne. On June 2nd, they will present their plans in an online showcase and formal launch that will be open to the broader community. Register for the  Showcase here. 

Anne says, “The youth have done a fantastic job in trying to change what they want to see changed while operating under the constraints of working remotely. I am very proud of our students.”