Monthly Archives: June 2011

In An Age of Social Media – A Project Founded on Human Relationships

In an age of social media, along comes a project founded on human relationships. Pass It On – Phase II has been a project inspired by a mentorship pilot project of the same name implemented on Salt Spring Island in 2009. With funding from the Status of Women Canada, SWOVA Community Development and Research Society was able to provide funding to 5 communities throughout British Columbia: McBride/Valemount; Prince George; Kamloops; cluelet and Salt Spring Island. The emphasis was to foster mentorship relationships between grade 7 or 8 girls and high school young women, focusing on leadership, self-care, personal safety, and access to community supports.

All 5 communities reported enthusiasm on the part of the young females involved in the project. However, all reported some trepidation on the part of the young female mentors when they realized they would have to make an initial phone call in order to connect with their younger buddy. In addition, ongoing connections would have to be made face-to-face. An email or internet ‘chat’ connection could not replace in-person time together.

Here’s what Salt Spring Island had to say about that:

“On one hand it has been very beneficial for the mentors to learn how to communicate with another person face to face rather than relying on social media, however, all mentioned what a challenge it was to learn how to meet with a stranger and come up with ways of connecting.”

A great deal of time was spent with the mentors to prepare them for their new challenge and bi-weekly meetings offered opportunities for strategizing, problem-solving and practicing communication skills.

McBride/Valemount suggests the following:

“If we get funding to do this again next year, I will hold meetings with the mentees much in the same way that the mentors had. I think it is important for the mentees to understand the project more and their role.”

Ucluelet included a social media element to their project due to the expertise of their mentor supervisor. Her explanation follows:

“I elected to take on a blogging component to the project. Since I work in media I was curious to see what parts of this work would be transferable to rural projects. The girls seemed to really like having the camera at activities and I could use it as a way for the shyer girls to still feel like they were participating. And the photos provided such an incredible source of inspiration for me! I could reflect on the photos and remember all the magical moments we were creating together.”

All the projects had their young female mentors and other young females in their communities participate in four workshops. The workshops were seen as a way to introduce some of the issues that may arise over the course of their partnerships with younger buddies. Kamloops suggests some things that strengthen a mentorship project.

“The majority of buddies live in extreme poverty and are multiple-ministry involved. This created challenges for the mentors and required extra support. School liaisons were very supportive as well as having mentors who have ‘Respectful + Relationship’ training.

The four workshops were a wonderful experience (covering topics such as body image, girl-girl relationships, party safety and depression/expression). I am beyond enthusiastic about the material and look forward to presenting it again ASAP.”

Reaching out to the broader community is essential when running a project for youth. It heightens our awareness of what is available for youth and it also raises the awareness of youth supporting youth in positive ways to the community. Prince George shared their experiences with both these components.

“Vendors stepped up with donations of $200.00 from Superstore, passes for swimming from the city, passes for the roller dome, and passes for bowling. We budgeted monies for Tim Hortons gift cards and gave them out to the mentors as well. I was both awed and dumbfounded by the lack of support these young women felt they had and the way they absorbed information. As a service provider we often feel we have a multitude of services and yet these women were saying no they did not have the right kind. Providing them with a forum to talk seemed equally important to providing mentorship and when we run it again I believe a wider forum for conversation will be offered.”

As with the end of any project, there is a sense of accomplishment, that so many lives were enriched and yet sadness that the project has come to an end. Each community is now seeking ways to keep the momentum going and to build on what they have learned. SWOVA wants to express their gratitude to the Status of Women Canada for their generous funding and to the exceptional Mentor Supervisors who made this project a magical reality in each of their communities: Jennifer Quam – McBride/Valemount; Kate Maurice – Salt Spring Island; Tracy Bergman – Kamloops; Marika Swan – Uclulet; Val Jordan – Prince George

By Chris Gay – Project Coordinator

It’s Graduation and Prom Time- But not For Everyone

The past year has seen an unprecedented wave of media attention regarding the overwhelming levels of discrimination that many LGBTQ youth experience from their family, peers, schools and communities. In particular, the story of Constance McMillen, captured the hearts of millions of people around the world.

Like most teens entering into their final year of high school, Constance McMillen looked forward to her prom with great anticipation. All of that changed when the Mississippi lesbian-identified teen was launched into the international spotlight following her school district’s decision to cancel prom rather than granting her permission to wear a tuxedo and bring her same sex partner to the prom. The decision came just one week after the American Civil Liberties Union filed a free speech case on behalf of McMillen.  On March 23, 2010, U.S. District Court Judge ruled in favour of McMillen, affirming that McMillen’s First Amendment rights were violated when she was prohibited from both attending prom with her girlfriend and wearing a tuxedo to the prom.

The case captured worldwide media attention as Constance McMillen became known as an eloquent, outspoken and courageous champion of LGBTQ rights. While she was warmly received on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, The Wanda Skyes Show, and CBC’s Q, McMillen’s sense of social justice was far from celebrated in her hometown. Indeed, McMillen’s victory and notoriety came at the price of social ostracism and alienation from her peers and hometown community. All but five students refused to attend the private prom in which Constance and her girlfriend were invited to attend, opting instead to attend a ‘secret prom’ organized by parents in her community.

As an agency dedicated raising awareness and strategies to eliminate homophobia, the Constance McMillen story represents an opportunity to both celebrate and reflect on the important role that agencies such as SWOVA play as educators and advocates for youth.

It is on behalf of Constance and the millions of LGBTQ teens around the world that we must continue to address and eliminate homophobia in our schools and communities.

By Nicola Temmel – Summer Student at SWOVA

Sexual Health for Youth

This spring SWOVA organized the first Sexual Health Fair at Gulf Islands Secondary School and an afternoon of workshops on sexual health for the grade 11 students. There were information booths set up during the lunch break for students from the whole school to browse through.  A number of community agencies set up their information tables.   Overall it was a great success and the participating youth were very positive in their evaluation of the day.

Two local doctors, a public health nurse and two community-based   facilitators carried out the workshops with the assistance of trained youth facilitators from grade 12.

Students had some profound comments on their experience:

 “Respect and communicating and openness are more important than I ever imagined and this workshop confirmed this.” Male student

“I learned… always make my thoughts and feelings clear, no matter what the situation, be safe.” Female student

“I learned that sex is a sacred thing; the importance of being honest; clarify rumours and stereotypes; and intimacy is more important than the physical aspects of sex.”  Male student

“It was a very good balance of Doctor stuff and talking about the emotional stuff.”

“Asking questions to a doctor really helped a lot.”

Having an open dialogue with youth about sex is an important way to ensure their future health.

Lynda LaushwayExecutive Director

Spark Fest Unplugged

Steph MacPherson with Lindsay Bryan performing at Spark Fest

What does it take to reach out to the community and let your voice be heard?

A clear vision, a number of passionate willing youth, and ways to engage your audience.

Kate Maurice, the Mentor Supervisor for the Pass It On Project on Salt Spring Island had the vision – a multi-layered day of activites in a carnival atmosphere, surrounded by music with and for youth. The mentors of the Pass It On Project and some of the Respectful Relationship Youth Team were so inspired that they could participate in such an event, that they could define some of the elements, and that a day of music would be made available for them.

The foundational elements of the event called Spark Fest included:

  • Activities that were appropriate for all ages
  • Ways for youth to be involved in the creation and implementation
  • Modeling of respectful relations
  • A variety of music and musicians from both on and off the island
  • A festive and celebratory mood
  • Making money would be ideal but would not determine the success or failure of the event

The large Farmer’s Institute on Salt Spring Island was set up into areas of activities:

  • Door prizes (sunset kayak adventure, clothing, hair salon and restaurant gift certificates, wheat free baked items, and more)
  • Ball activities
  • Cake walk
  • Fortune telling
  • Pie in the face contest
  • Found art creation
  • Wonderful waffles
  • Bike-generated smoothie bar
  • Vegetarian take out
  • Main stage music venue

The day was ambitious, the optimism of the organizers and youth infectious, and the audience appreciative.

For a first annual Spark Fest fundraising event, the turnout could be described as small but mighty. Those who stayed for the final headline band, Maurice were not disappointed. For those who expended a great deal of energy in organizing and implementing this event, they learned what it is to work as a team, to conceptualize something of this magnitude, to maintain an inviting and engaging environment, and to have fun.

When asked if the low turnout would deter Kate from organizing such an event next year, her response was a resounding NO. In fact, she now knows what she will want to change and she wants to start organizing it tomorrow, so she can get a larger name band in to attract more youth. That’s passion, that’s vision and that’s what reaching out to your community is all about and finding your voice. Spark Fest 2012 here we come!

Chris Gay – Pass It On Coordinator

Pie throwing FUNdraiser @ Spark Fest

Cake Walk @ Spark Fest

The waffles were a popular item @ Spark Fest