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ABOUT ACT FOR YOUTH The Assets Coming Together (ACT) for Youth project brings together a multi-sectoral alliance of community stakeholders and an interdisciplinary network of researchers in a program of applied research, capacity building, knowledge transfer, and evaluation that is focused on youth in urban communities, using as a case study the Jane/ Finch community. ACT for Youth seeks to develop a comprehensive youth strategy that articulates how urban communities like the Jane/Finch community can energize community assets that support positive youth development.

IN THIS ISSUE 1. Community-Based Research Summer Institute 2. Jane-Finch Research Forum 3. 2011 Youth Interns & Youth-Led Committee 4. Poet Lemn Sissay 5. Key Research & Findings To Date



YOUTH CONNECT, DEVELOP SKILLS AT COMMUNITYBASED RESEARCH SUMMER INSTITUTE ACT for Youth made a commitment to the Jane/Finch community during the project development phase to provide youth with the opportunity to develop their research skills and engage their interest in the possibilities of post-secondary education and/or graduate education. The Community-Based Research (CBR) Summer Institute is an initiative of the ACT for Youth project’s Youth Researcher Program. The idea was inspired by a research training series that took place from April to June 2010. By designing an institute to take place over the summer, more youth would be able to participate, and ACT for Youth would also be able to prepare participants for the youth intern positions available with the project. Last summer, youth living in and around the Jane/Finch community participated in the CBR Summer Institute, which served as a training program on the theory and practice of CBR. Through lectures, presentations, and

action-oriented group work, youth were able to ask and answer questions of importance to their community. Fifty-six applications were received for the program, 36 from within the Jane/Finch community and 20 from outside the community. Of those who applied, 22 students were accepted to the Institute and 18 youth successfully graduated. Recognizing the commitment required, youth received a stipend of $500 each for their participation.

“You are exposing the youth to spaces some of them never thought they would occupy. And I am indebted to you in that regard” - Anonymous, Youth Worker and Community Partner ACT FOR YOUTH FALL 2011 NEWSLETTER


The Institute was coordinated by Varun Vig, a Masters of Environmental Studies practicum student with ACT for Youth. It began with a launch event on July 7th, featuring remarks by Dr. Narda Razack, Associate Dean, Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies, York University; Sue Wilkinson, Community CoChair, Partnership Group; and Antonius Clarke, Community Co-Chair, Youth-Led Committee. Over the course of the next eight weeks, participants took part in 50 hours of research sessions, including an orientation to library research at York University’s Scott Library and a series of engaging guest presenters. These guests included spoken word artist and past Youth Research Intern Lola Lawson; Felix Cabrera of the Black Creek Income Security, Race and Health Project; Dr. P.E. Perkins of York University; and Alexander Lovell of Queen’s University. The sessions also highlighted various research projects related to youth. Susan Fletcher of SPACE Coalition presented research on youth accessing public spaces, and Iram Ali, Mamoun Awan, and Fozia Khan of We Belong Youth Group discussed their youth-led assetmapping research project.

security, community resources, and the use of statistics and surveys. One group produced a video on reframing the discourse of the Jane/ Finch community. Each graduate received a stipend and certificate of participation upon completion of the program, and was celebrated on August 25th at a graduation ceremony attended by youth participants, mentors, and proud family members. Certificates were handed out by Kofi Frempong, Community Partner, Youth Voices Working Group. M. Mwarigha, Co-Chair of ACT for Youth’s Research Advisory Committee, delivered the opening remarks, and the closing remarks were made by Byron Gray, Co-Chair, Youth Voices Working Group.

“Each of you is on a path of knowledge-seeking and making; you are our future leaders” - Kizzy Bedeau, Keynote Speaker

The participants were divided into five groups, and each group was assigned a mentor, one of the participating graduate students, including Zorana Alimpic (MPhil), Rebecca Houwer (PhD, Education), Annika Ollner (MSW), Jen Ryan (PhD, Communication & Culture), and Enzo Verrilli (PhD, Psychology). The groups worked to produce a final research project with guidance from their mentor. These youth-led research

In her keynote address, Kizzy Bedeau, Manager of the Community Partnerships Office at George Brown College, summarized the program’s vision for graduates: “Through this program, I hope you have recognized that research is not only used in the world of academia, but also equips you with many other skills related to informing policy and taking action… You have the skills, tools, and vision to not only be enlightened, but also enlighten others through your personal experiences, knowledge,

projects focused on issues concerning food

and brilliance… Each of you is on a path of ACT FOR YOUTH FALL 2011 NEWSLETTER


knowledge-seeking and making; you are our future leaders.”

ENGAGING IN RESEARCH, ENGAGING IN COMMUNITY Some of the graduates of the Community-Based Research Summer Institute share their personal reflections: “What I got from this experience is simply this: ‘Learning to do something in theory is easy, but doing it in reality is much more difficult!’” – Taneese Jones

“The CBR program has given me a greater understanding of my surroundings, particularly my community – Jane & Finch – and some of the issues we are trying to overcome… This program has taken a different approach to finding and resolving the issues we face daily in the community by using youth [like] myself from the community as being part of the solution.” – Mahindra Persaud “Researching was one of those things that I hated in school, but after being a part of the ACT research group it has now become one of my favourite things that I love.” – Stephen Brown

“I could have never guessed how influential this summer program would have been in my life, it has inspired me to take things to the next level and be the difference in my community.” – Nnali Simon



SHARING KNOWLEDGE AT JANE-FINCH RESEARCH FORUM On September 24th, partner organizations York University – TD Community Engagement Centre, Black Creek Community Health Centre, Seneca College, and The Spot held the JaneFinch Research Forum to highlight the various community-based research projects happening in the Jane/Finch community. This forum was presented by the York University – TD Community Engagement Centre, directed by Sue Levesque, Co-Chair of ACT for Youth’s Knowledge Mobilization & Communications Committee. Two presentations at the Forum were given by ACT for Youth and included youth presenters. The first was presented by youth research interns Talisha Ramsaroop, Asim Aziz (both graduates of the Community-Based Research Summer Institute), and Henry Appiah, and was titled “Youth Speak: Our Voices, Our Stories”. This presentation highlighted preliminary research findings on youth perspectives on wellbeing and violence, understanding barriers and facilitators to youth employment, and reframing public discourse on the Jane/Finch community. The second presentation was given by Aziz and fellow youth intern (and Community-Based Research Summer Institute graduate) Grace Francis Good, and shared an evaluation of the Youth Research Internship and CommunityBased Research Summer Institute, as well as

the experiences of youth on the project. These presentations were supported by mentors (and graduate students) Jen Ryan and Rebecca Houwer, and by ACT for Youth Project Manager Tka Pinnock. ACT for Youth is committed to hiring and training youth as co-researchers – youth research interns, youth survey assistants, and youth research assistants. The first internship cycle ran from March 2010 to March 2011, and the second cycle is now underway. The interns play an invaluable role in the research process, contributing their skills and expertise in the outreach and recruitment of potential research participants, in data collection, and in assisting with data analysis.

 CT for Youth is committed A to hiring and training youth as co-researchers – youth research interns, youth survey assistants, and youth research assistants.



MEET OUR 2011 YOUTH INTERNS Abdi Mohamed is in his final year of the Community Service Worker program at George Brown College, and plans to pursue his Bachelor degree in Community Economic & Social Development. Asim Aziz is assisting in editing an article, and is conducting preliminary research to compose a media literacy workshop targeted at youth. Grace Good is a mother to her five-year-old son, and is currently in her final year in the Community Worker program at George Brown College. She hopes to pursue an undergraduate degree in Social Work. Nnali Simon is an aspiring social worker currently enrolled in the undergraduate program at Ryerson University. Talisha Ramsaroop is a second-year university student, working towards a major in Sociology and a minor in English. She hopes to pursue a career as a youth counsellor and teacher in high schools.

MEET OUR 2011 YOUTH-LED COMMITTEE (YLC) The Youth-Led Committee (YLC) is made up of ten local youth, including representatives from secondary schools and research interns from ACT for Youth. In the coming months, the YLC is developing a theatre production. Live theatre is a great way to bring people together, and to share ACT for Youth’s research with youth audiences. The idea for the play is to examine some of the issues in the community through a love story involving a young couple from Jane and Finch. The play will follow the story of how they met and fell in love, in the neighbourhood they love. The performance is planned for the spring of 2012, and the YLC will write, produce, and perform the play. Members of the YLC are also involved in the ACT Research Working Groups, and some members of the Sub-Committee are helping to plan a youth-focused conference for next spring. The YLC participated in the all-day Research Advisory Committee meeting on December 9th.. Read more from the Youth Interns and our Youth-Led Committee on JustChat, the ACT for Youth blog! Visit actforyouth.apps01. for weekly updates, and share your comments.



“WE CAN DO ANYTHING. WHO TOLD US WE COULDN’T?” - POET LEMN SISSAY On October 20th, ACT for Youth’s youth interns had the opportunity to participate in an intimate dialogue with UK performance poet and playwright Lemn Sissay. Visiting Toronto for the first time, Sissay gave the Wendy Michener Memorial Lecture at York University the night before, and received a standing ovation from all in attendance. Sissay is the author of five poetry collections, and has worked on more than two dozen radio documentaries. York’s

18-years-old, and was unable to find his mother in Ethiopia for another three years. The group discussed the ways in which we make ourselves through our families, and the importance of these bonds. Sissay encouraged the group to express their own challenges in life, explaining that those parts of our lives that we don’t want to talk about are the very parts that will help us connect with others.

Faculty of Fine Arts and Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies partnered with the Assets Coming Together for Youth project and York University – TD Community Engagement Centre in providing an opportunity for youth in the community to meet with Lemn and to discuss his life and work.

Sissay ended the 90-minute session with a reading of his poem, “Suitcases and Muddy Parks,” and with the empowering statement: “We can do anything. Who told us we couldn’t?” He then gave each participant a free copy of one of his books of poetry, and stayed behind to have dinner with the youth and to sign posters and books for everyone who attended. The youth left feeling inspired and grateful to have come to know such a generous and talented artist.

Spoken word artist and past Youth Research Intern Lola Lawson welcomed Sissay following a performance of one of her own works of poetry. This led to a lively discussion about the history of black poetry, and about art as an essential part of our lives and communities. As Sissay said, “Poetry is at the heart of our community, not at the periphery.” He also described poetry as a gift that can be shared with others, and spoke about a new television program he is developing that would profile his work to write poems celebrating real people in various life circumstances. Most meaningful to the youth was Sissay’s own life story. Fostered by a white, religious family until the age of 11, then institutionalized in children’s homes until he was 17, Sissay did not learn his real name until he was



KEY RESEARCH AND FINDINGS TO DATE ACT for Youth has: • brought together a multi-sectoral alliance of community organizations that can transform our findings into policy and action;

To date, the project has collected: • 50 short interviews with youth from the Mobile Speakers’ Corner, speaking to issues of violence, well-being, and ‘turf’.

• engaged youth extensively in our research and knowledge production; • accumulated a wealth of qualitative and quantitative data about Jane/Finch youth;

• 22 individual interviews, 10 focus groups with 22 participants, and 110 photos (each with narratives) from the two Photo-Voice projects on issues of violence and well-being.

• created a rich portrait of the assets and resources of youth in Jane/Finch; and

• 2 focus groups with 16 youth on youth’s labour market attachment.

• developed a deep understanding of how the negative discourse of the Jane/Finch community impacts youth.

• 36 in-depth interviews with youth on their labour market attachment.

The five working groups have collected an incredible amount of rich data that will inform the action component of ACT for Youth’s work in the second half of the project. The data range from photographs, narratives, interviews, and the Photo-Voice component of Youth Voices, to interviews with academics, policymakers, and media, and a Critical Discourse Analysis of both mainstream and alternative media output from

• 30 in-depth interviews with youth, academics, policy-makers, media, and community stakeholders on discourse consumption and production.

• A focus group with 12 front-line workers in the youth employment sector.

• Critical Discourse Analysis of 148 mainstream media texts. • Evaluation data from project team members, students, and youth.

the Reframing Discourse Working Group. ACT FOR YOUTH FALL 2011 NEWSLETTER


YOUTH SURVEY WORKING GROUP The Youth Survey of Student Resources and Assets was developed to understand what resources and assets youth in urban communities have, and to explore possible ways that communities can increase the development of assets for youth using socializing systems within the community. The survey was conducted in five of the six middle and high schools in the community, and in three high schools outside of the community that are attended by students who reside in the Jane/Finch area. The project mailed a total 4,563 consent letters in nine languages to parents and students in the respective schools. Of the 1,756 students granted permission to participate in the survey, 1,706 students completed the Survey of Student Resources and Assets. In the end, 1,592 of the surveys were usable. Data from the survey, which combines two frameworks for positive human development, offers a rich portrait of the assets and resources of youth in Jane/Finch that help us understand the challenges youth face and the supports they engage in order to overcome these barriers. These findings suggest strategies for long-term goals, targeting youth, mobilizing the public, and supporting existing efforts.

YOUTH VOICES WORKING GROUP: MOBILE SPEAKERS’ CORNER The Mobile Speakers’ Corner was set up at two shopping malls (Yorkgate and Jane/Finch) on two days during the summer of 2010, and 50 youth (aged 14 to 29) participated. The participants were given tape recorders and were asked to record their answer to one of three questions: • What are the perspectives of youth concerning their needs and well-being? • How do youth understand “turf issues” in their community? • How do youth experience violence in their lives?

“We as a community should be able to take a stand and say, ‘This is our community. We have a problem. We are going to deal with it.’ We shouldn’t be laying back and saying, ‘Okay, I’m going to let the police do it’. We have a mind. We have a voice. This is our community.” - Youth Testimonial from the Mobile Speakers’ Corner, Summer 2010 The initial results of this project can be found on our website ( in the e-zine Jane-Finch Youth Speak Out: Turf, Violence, Well-Being.



YOUTH VOICES WORKING GROUP: PHOTO-VOICE PROJECT Photo-Voice enables participants to record and reflect their community’s strengths and concerns, to promote critical dialogue and knowledge about important issues through large and small group discussions of photographs, and to reach policymakers.

(IN)SECURITY “A security camera is just another reminder that “you are not safe.” No matter where you go, a security camera says “you can’t be trusted” and “I’m watching you.” With a very active and controlling police force, feeling safe is the only thing you can feel, unless it’s unease.”

Two ACT for Youth Photo-Voice projects have been conducted, with 11 participants (aged 16 to 21) in each. Each Photo-Voice project was framed by a question: • What are the perspectives of youth concerning their needs and well-being? • How do youth experience violence in their lives? Participants were asked to take pictures representing issues that are important in their lives, and to attach a narrative description, developed through critical analysis in focus group sessions. Each participant took part in five focus groups to learn ethics and technical skills, to discuss the research questions, to share their photos, to discuss emerging findings from the photos, and to decide on an action strategy for the findings. Participants were given $100 and were allowed to keep the camera if they completed all five focus groups and the individual interviews.

UNITY “We can easily break the lone toothpick, while the bundle of toothpicks needs more energy to break. If our community works together as one, we can all bring incredible changes. People from different ethnicities tend to have distant relationships with their neighbours. The community needs to join together and become aware of all the wonderfully diverse people around them.”

Visit the ACT for Youth website ( in the coming months to view the complete online gallery.

IN STONE “These three words represent the strengths of the Jane and Finch community. They are written in stone where we can’t erase them. These words tell the future generation how we ACT FOR YOUTH FALL 2011 NEWSLETTER 10 should live. Think about the future of Jane and Finch. Will it be a better community?”

YOUTH PERSPECTIVES ON EDUCATION & EMPLOYMENT Through collaboration with community partners (Black Creek Community Health Centre, The Spot, Driftwood Community Centre, JVS, PEACH, and the York University – TD Community Engagement Centre), 36 in-depth interviews with youth, and two focus groups with youth, were conducted to explore youth’s perception of barriers and opportunities in labour market attachment and integration. To investigate employers’ perceptions of youth and their employability, 25 interviews were coordinated with employers from different sectors.

“Because there is a difference between a job and a career. A job is just something you do for maybe the money to pass time, while a career is something you do, but you love it at the same time.” Findings The interviews and focus groups with youth revealed that potential barriers to employment can include: • not being able to access internships and volunteer opportunities; • having a criminal record; • lacking confidence, self-esteem, and support systems; • having a sense of entitlement; • experiencing discrimination tied to race and class; • not having the benefits of ‘location’ and a rich family; • not having appropriate interview clothing; • the stigma of having a ‘Jane/Finch’ address.

The top three resources that youth mentioned they rely on to find employment were internet resources, community agencies, and dropping off resumes at potential employment sites. They described how their current employment experiences, both negative and positive, have helped them prepare for future careers, gain skills and experiences, and be exposed to new people and experiences. Because of their employment experiences, some youth shift their focus from employment to the education system, by returning to high school for course upgrades or by entering transitional-year programs.

“Because when you have education, you looking from a wider perspective. When you don’t have education, you only think narrow-minded – like your mind is only one track, you know? But, with education, you kind of, somewhat think over your options … try to, you know, choose the best options that present itself. Without education, you don’t even think about – you’re only thinking going out there.” Youth consider education at the top of their list for charting a path towards employment success. However, they also described the multi-dimensional importance of education that goes beyond the economic benefits. Though acknowledging the importance of education to careers, youth said that they are not sufficiently engaged by their education, and that the current system is not reflective of their needs ACT FOR YOUTH FALL 2011 NEWSLETTER


and interests. Youth were especially critical of teachers who didn’t seem to care, and who had low expectations.

“Sometimes they look at your address and that becomes a big issue when looking for a job, and I know that the address caused me not to get a job.” While living in the Jane/Finch community builds resilience for youth and is a cited source of support, it also remains a source of stigma.

REFRAMING DISCOURSE WORKING GROUP The Reframing Discourse Working Group is exploring questions about how the Jane/ Finch community can reframe discourse to support positive youth development, and how the current discourse (both in content and in form) being used to frame youth relates to policies, programs, and funding that impacts the community. The group also examines how and who benefits from negative discourse, how youth in the Jane/Finch area get information, and how the distinctions between mainstream and alternative media are understood within and outside of the community.

violence against youth from Jane/Finch that results in stigmatization, discrimination, and, for some youth, a limited sense of what is possible. While many youth continue to resist this single portrait that is painted of their community by the media, policymakers, and others, some appear to have internalized the negative messages about their neighbourhood. There are very real material consequences to framing a population based on need, deficit, and deviance. Our research refers to these effects as ‘the violence of low expectations’. When a community is framed as lacking or dysfunctional, expectations for youth – both from within and outside the community – decline. Once expectations are reduced, youth are no longer challenged or given the opportunity to reach their full potential (by education systems, service providers, community members, the media, etc.). The negative discourse has the potential to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. For example, young people who have not been sufficiently prepared for life after high school are more vulnerable to falling into the traps that are exploited in sensationalized understandings of Jane and Finch. This finding will be central as the ACT for Youth project moves into the mobilization and dissemination phase.

ACT for Youth is now in the early stages of integrating findings from the data collected. Although this remains a complex process, one of the overarching themes emerging from the abundance of data is the impact of the negative discourse about the Jane/Finch community on youth. This negative discourse is a form of





An evaluation of the ACT for Youth Research Internship Program was conducted in 2010. An e-zine outlining the experiences of the 2010 ACT for Youth interns was put together by PhD candidate Enzo Verrillo, summarizing interviews conducted with five youth interns and offering insight into how the project can move forward. Download “My Internship Story: An Evaluation of the Assets Coming Together For Youth Research Internship Program� on our website: act/reports.html.

Is there a topic, issue, group or event that you would like to see profiled in a future issue? Let us know. We want to hear from our partners and supporters, and need your input to make future newsletters representative of our work together. For more information, contact Tka Pinnock, Project Manager, at

The Partnership Self Assessment Survey revealed the need for increased contact between academic and community partners, the need for better communication among partnership group members, more community visibility for the project, and more links between research and policy. We hope that this newsletter will help us to better connect and communicate, and we invite your input.

Compiled and edited by Kathe Rogers,, with writing and support from Grace Good.

COMING SOON Look for a formal announcement in our next issue about the research conference for youth researchers, organized by youth researchers, to be held in spring 2012 and supported by ACT for Youth.



ACT for Youth Project Newsletter - Issue #1  

In this issue, read about the Community-Based Research Summer Institute; Jane-Finch Research Forum; 2011 Youth Interns & Youth-Led Committee...

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