Leading the Way: Exploring Ottawa Organizations Empowering Black Youth

Leading the Way

Exploring Ottawa Organizations Empowering Black Youth

This month, we’re spotlighting a part of the vibrant network of organizations in Ottawa  dedicated to supporting and empowering black youth. These committed groups provide invaluable resources spanning education, entrepreneurial guidance, leadership development, mentorship, community connections, access to black history materials, and advocacy for anti-racism initiatives. We invite you to click on each title to  learn  more about these impactful organizations through their websites, and spread the word!

The Michaëlle Jean Foundation is a national charitable organization that supports youth-led mobilization towards inclusion and social justice. Established in 2010, and born out of the support for youth, arts and culture provided by the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, with the help of her husband, philosopher and writer, Jean-Daniel Lafond.  It uses a unique intervention model, based on the power of the arts, dialogue, innovation, education, creative and social entrepreneurship, to help young Canadians across the country who have been struck by exclusion. The Foundation offers a rich variety of engagement opportunities for youth, including the Power of Youth grant program and the Creative Youth Entrepreneurship Program. Explore these powerful initiatives here. 

The Chnge Mker Innovation Hub equips and empowers Black entrepreneurs with the business strategy and mindset skills they need to launch and grow the business of their dreams. For over thirteen years, founder Mona Abow worked with marginalized groups in the career development space in Ottawa. This ignited her passion to bring together an empowered community of business owners, mentors, and advisors – who share the same vision.

In 2023 Mona and her team launched The Chnge Mker Innovation Hub, the first entrepreneurship space and program in Ottawa  that centers around the identity of Black entrepreneurs. The Change Mkers Innovation Hub provides an innovative space for connection and networking, personalized business strategy, mental health support, mindset mastery and start-up training workshops for Black entrepreneurs. Click here to explore the business incubation program and join the next cohort for free. 

The People of Tomorrow is a youth led organization founded in 2020 by Benazir Tom Erdimi, a university of Ottawa student in her 3rd year of conflict studies and Human Rights. It was born out of a collective desire to create a positive and empowering space that highlights the achievements and potential of the black community beyond the lens of racism and police brutality. Inspired by the global Black Lives Matter movement, TPOT aims to provide a platform where black individuals could showcase their hard work and contributions across diverse fields such as education, social justice, art, science, innovations, and photography. The TPOT mission has since expanded and evolved into a non-profit organization focused on  connection,  celebration, empowerment, and resource allocation for the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) community. Learn more about their work. 

The Right Honorable Michaëlle Jean speaking with youth.
Benazir Tom Erdimi: Founder of The People of Tomorrow

Established in 2019, Leading Ladies Canada is a non-profit organization created and led  by black women. Their mission is to empower black women, youth, and children by providing them with the tools and resources necessary for personal and professional growth, fostering an environment where they are helping to build the next generation of leading ladies. They offer a variety of programs including an education program featuring webinars on leadership, entrepreneurship, financial literacy, healthcare, and relationships, as well as, a Community Outreach Program focused on addressing the needs of black communities in the Ottawa-Carleton region. Get involved and discover more about their important community work by exploring their latest events.

Established in 1985, Black History Ottawa is a volunteer-driven non-profit deeply embedded in the community. Collaborating with public institutions and community groups, its mission is to raise awareness of the rich history, culture, and contributions of Canadians of African descent to Ottawa and Canada. The organization promotes and supports research in African history, aiming to establish a reliable source of information and correct historical distortions. Special attention is given to inspiring youth to value their heritage and pursue leadership roles. Black History Ottawa conducts year-round programming, with a focus on promoting and celebrating African heritage in February for Black History Month. Learn more about volunteering and membership here. 

Jaku Konbit supports individuals and families of African and Caribbean descent, alongside other equity-deserving individuals, through community partnerships and programming, fostering economic and civic participation in Canadian society. They deliver high-quality youth, elder, and community programs that celebrate African heritage. They provide a number of programs dedicated to youth interests and development including, a provincial youth outreach worker program, a black youth entrepreneurship and innovation program, tutoring services, and a dedicated mentorship program specifically supported to focus on the empowerment of  black youth. Curious about becoming a mentor? Learn more about youth mentorship initiatives here.

We express our sincere thanks to these and countless other remarkable organizations in Ottawa who share in our commitment to empower the next generation of leaders and change makers. Together we can amplify the meaningful contributions of all those who are dedicated to forging a more equitable and promising future for youth in Ottawa and beyond. 

Empowering Tomorrow: How do we Support Youth Entrepreneurship?

Empower Tomorrow's Entrepreneurs

This Giving Tuesday, help us empower Ottawa’s future. Donate today to help support youth entrepreneurship programs.

Throughout this month, Youth Ottawa has been dedicated to showcasing the transformative influence of youth entrepreneurship in action. We have taken a dive into the problems and challenges faced by aspiring young entrepreneurs and have told the story of thriving young business leaders in Ottawa working for the community.  We have seen that entrepreneurship has a powerful role in driving economic growth, fostering innovative solutions, and positively impacting the empowerment of young individuals. For the past 25 years, we have been committed to supporting the youth in our city, providing opportunities for them to learn and grow through hands-on experience and experiential learning.

Empowering Tomorrow

How do we Support Youth Entrepreneurship?

This Giving Tuesday, you are invited to explore the programs we deliver to support our future entrepreneurs. These initiatives are designed to equip youth with the knowledge and experience necessary to enhance their leadership, confidence, and entrepreneurial skills. Join us by supporting our programs and empower youth to achieve success. Keep reading to jump into our organization’s vision to support young entrepreneurs in creating a better tomorrow.

Guiding the next generation: The power of mentorship in youth entrepreneurship.

Mentorship is an important part of helping young entrepreneurs achieve their goals. Successful individuals often have a network of experience they can look to for advice and guidance. Youth have great ideas but often lack the infrastructure to mobilize their dreams into reality. Mentorship offers youth hands-on involvement, helps navigate challenges faced by entrepreneurs, and transfers experiential-based knowledge and essential skills needed to build a strong foundation for success. It is an essential element in fostering growth and building connections.

 At Youth Ottawa, we stand behind the value of mentorship, and tailor our entrepreneur focused programs to deliver business development training and provide access to seasoned entrepreneurs. Additionally, by enhancing networking opportunities youth can communicate, connect, and collaborate with individuals sharing the same passions, interests, and goals.  By fostering connections, we empower youth to engage and collaborate with like-minded individuals, amplifying their potential for growth and success.

Our Programs Help Build Entrepreneurs

We are excited for the future of our ambitious young business community but understand that dreams and great ideas need support. To respond to this growing need, we developed two engaging programs, the Summer Amplified Fellowship, and the Social Enterprise Program. These two programs are designed with leadership and entrepreneurship in mind.


What is the Summer
Amplified Fellowship?

In 2019, the passion of youth entrepreneurs inspired us to launch the Summer Amplified Fellowship. This program is designed to amplify the entrepreneurial projects of youth by offering business development training, mentorship, and networking. We hire youth to work for themselves for 8 weeks during the summer. They have the opportunity to grow their ideas into sustainable enterprises and develop their entrepreneurial experience. The program covers several topics of business development such as Human- Centered Design, Business Design Thinking, Empathy Mapping, Building Customer Personas, funding paths, grant writing, partnership acquisition, networking and public speaking, impact Reporting, Branding, Marketing and Sales. Youth can support one another and learn together uniquely. 

About the Social
Enterprise Program

The Social Enterprise Program (SEP) allows students to explore career interests through social enterprise development. By activating a combination of innovation, collaboration and global awareness and drawing on their pre-existing academic skills students are asked to innovate and solve challenges presented by community organizations. Employing diverse and experienced young social entrepreneurs from Youth Ottawa’s Amplified Fellowship, the SEP adopts a “for-youth-by-youth” model where students are mentored by role models who already have experience with social enterprise development. The program bridges the gap between the classroom and community outreach  and allows students to explore socially minded business practices and the positive impacts they can achieve.

Program Impact

Many success stories have made their way through our programs and we could not be more excited to continue growing to include more youth! Most recently, Drayton Mulindabigwi Jabo, a Fellow from our 2022 Summer Amplified Cohort, launched The Novas Group, a consulting firm focused on brand development. As an accomplished business leader, he recently took home The Youth Immigrant Entrepreneur Award 2023 from TiE Ottawa.

Drayton Mulindabigwi Jabo accepting his TiE Award.

This month, Hot Shoe Productions, a youth-led film production company that began with the support of Youth Ottawa in 2018, won Best Performance in Social Entrepreneurship at the Best Ottawa Business Awards hosted by the Ottawa Business Journal. 

The Hot Shoe Productions Team at the Best Ottawa Business Awards.

These young change-makers have already come so far, and it’s only the beginning! Providing opportunities that support entrepreneurship makes a difference in our community, it can give youth the boost they need to spearhead great successes in the future.  This Giving Tuesday, help us support youth with their entrepreneurial goals, so they can continue to build a better tomorrow.  

Our Hope for the Future: How can you support?

Each contribution you make this Giving Tuesday will go directly to the cost of operatating our SEP (Social Enterprise Program) in the community and expanding the program for March Break next year. We will also use the funds raised to expand our Summer Amplified Fellowship program to increase the amount of youth who can access the program. Last summer the program saw two youth participate and continue to build their social enterprises with the help of Youth Ottawa. We would like to add more participants this summer and build back to our pre-Covid numbers. 

Let’s take a peek at how your support can bring these programs to life:

1.In the Classroom: An Incubator for Social Enterprise

Our journey starts in the classroom, where the seed of social entrepreneurship is planted. For just $2,000 per classroom, we can introduce students to the world of business with a social conscience. 

2.Community- Based Learning: Nurturing Dreams in Shared Spaces

Beyond the school walls, our community-based program brings entrepreneurship into local neighbourhoods. It takes $1,500 to set this stage, plus an additional $250 for each youth who joins.

3.Summer Amplified Fellowship: A Journey of Self-Discovery

During the SAF program, young entrepreneurs are not just learning, they’re earning. At $6,800 per participant, this program is an investment in their future. For 8 weeks, youth work for themselves, turning their ideas into reality.  

The Impact of Your Support - Donate Today!

Youth entrepreneurs are a powerful force ready to create a better future filled with economic prosperity, innovation, bright ideas, and socially conscious business ventures. Our exploration of the entrepreneurial pathway for youth shows us that positive change is never easy.  It is our responsibility to guide the builders of tomorrow to help them become the visionary leaders we know they can be. The youth of our city have the drive, potential, creativity, and work ethic needed for success. Support our programs this Giving Tuesday and help us provide opportunities, so that young entrepreneurs can achieve their success stories. Let’s continue to empower, educate, and elevate these young minds together. 

Empowering Tomorrow’s Innovators: Understanding the Landscape of Youth Entrepreneurship

Empowering Tomorrow’s Innovators

Understanding the Landscape of Youth Entrepreneurship

Do you remember setting up your first lemonade stand? Or the time you and your friend made crafts to sell to friends and family? Maybe you even had the brilliant idea to create hand drawn signs to eagerly offer services like dog walking, shoveling snow, and mowing the lawns in your neighborhood. 

These childhood ventures are more than just fond memories–they are the seeds of entrepreneurship. They demonstrate the raw potential for innovation that we at Youth Ottawa are passionate about cultivating in today’s youth.

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Taking the entrepreneurial leap allows people to merge  passions and interests with  work. According to a 2023 RBC Small Business Poll, a
growing number of Canadians are turning to entrepreneurship to pursue this career lifestyle. This trend includes young entrepreneurs as well, with 8 in 10 young Canadians aspiring to entrepreneurship to shape the career they desire, as revealed by a 2023 IPSOS poll on Canadian Entrepreneurship. A goal also on the rise among Gen Z, driven by changing attitudes towards the post-pandemic work culture and technological innovation. Yet, despite their enthusiasm and innovative ideas, young Canadians make up just 1.7% of Canada’s entrepreneurial landscape. This disparity points to a pressing issue: a vast pool of potential is being overlooked. 

The Challenges of Youth Entrepreneurship

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The economic impact of entrepreneurs is undeniable–small businesses employ a substantial portion of the workforce. According to Statistic Canada, businesses with 1-99 employees make up 98% of all employer businesses in Canada, and employ 63% of the workforce. Yet, it’s not just about numbers; it’s about the fresh energy and perspectives that young entrepreneurs bring to the table. Their unique outlook and innovative approaches will inherit and transform the small business sector and job creation. 

However, the path for these aspiring young business owners is filled with challenges. Young people today face balancing education and work in a world marked by rising inflation rates and stagnant wages. They carry more debt and have limited financial support, which hinders their ability to pursue entrepreneurial dreams.

According to an RBC Economic report (2018), 80% of young business owners relied on donations and gifts to sustain their businesses. 

While it is true that Gen Z is ready to harness technological revolutions pioneered by previous generations to shape our economic future, being tech-savvy is just one part of the equation. Growing businesses today have many benefits thanks to tech advancements in AI, social media, data analytics, and e-commerce. Nevertheless, to truly empower entrepreneurship, youth need support in utilizing these new technologies for sustainable business, particularly in social enterprises. The United Nations’ recent report on Youth Social Entrepreneurship emphasizes the importance of aiding young people in identifying, adopting, and commercializing technologies for career growth. Taking full advantage of higher levels of youth engagement in the digital space requires that young people have support in adapting new technologies to business development.

Youth Belong in Entrepreneurial Spaces

The People of Tomorrow founder, Sallysha Vital leading a presentation during our Summer Amplified Program 2023

We believe in the transformative power of young entrepreneurs to create a lasting impact. We see it in the success stories from our community, where young individuals are leading the charge and pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in business. Young entrepreneurs like Mallorie Bordie & Lauren Lake, founders of Bridgit, a successfully innovative Canadian construction company, and Kerin John, founder of Black Owned Toronto, are a testament to what youth are capable of. In our city of Ottawa, youth enterprises like Hot Shoe Productions, a youth-led media production company and the Novas Group, a venture creation firm, are pushing the boundaries of entrepreneurship and are here to succeed. It is our responsibility as a community to support youth to empower the future.

Hot Shoe Production team members

Join us in Supporting Young Innovators

Youth Entrepreneurs need support to build the future. We understand this need deeply and are committed to providing young entrepreneurs with the help they need to overcome barriers, through mentorship, resources, and a community that believes in their potential.

Our mission is to transform the 1.7% into a figure that truly reflects the capabilities and aspirations of Canada’s youth

A large part of encouraging innovation is to create an environment that fosters experiential learning to support current educational practices. At Youth Ottawa our programs focus on the importance of marrying technological know-how with sustainable business practices. Our aim is to guide young entrepreneurs towards creating ventures that are not only profitable but also beneficial to society. 

With the giving season around the corner, we’re highlighting the importance of investing in the entrepreneurial spirit of our youth. By subscribing to our updates, you’ll get to follow the story of how we helped kick start a youth-led social enterprise and see the impact of what youth entrepreneurship can bring to our community. 

Together, let’s empower young entrepreneurs to turn lemons into lemonade!

There's more to this story! Subscribe below to stay updated.

Youth Voices, Civic Choices: Explore the Impactful Initiatives of the Ottawa Youth Engagement Committee

Youth Voices, Civic Choices

Explore the Impactful Initiatives of the Ottawa Youth Engagement Committee

The Ottawa Youth Engagement Committee (OYEC) is a dynamic group of passionate young individuals and community leaders who have joined hands with the City of Ottawa to effect positive change for the youth population. Their efforts are dedicated to shaping official decisions and enhancing outreach initiatives that will make Ottawa an even better place for youth. OYEC has recently introduced some new initiatives, we’ve highlighted them below!

The Middle Ground Project: A Seat at the Table

Central to OYEC’s mission is the Middle Ground Project, a platform designed to amplify the voices of young individuals on issues they are deeply passionate about. The project serves as a roundtable discussion, bringing together youth, individuals directly impacted by the topic under consideration, and individuals with diverse knowledge relevant to the subject. In OYEC’s first ever roundtable, the committee delved into the pressing issue of food insecurity and featured thought-provoking dialogue from guests Fatimah Karim and Mathilde Doucet, who brought their unique insights to the discussion. Additionally, OYEC representative Rehani contributed the committee’s perspective. 

Consultations with the City of Ottawa: Collaborative Decision-Making

In addition to the middle ground project roundtable discussions, the committee has actively conducted consultation sessions with various branches of the City of Ottawa, facilitating a direct line of communication between youth and decision-makers. Notable consultations have been carried out with the Anti-Racism, Women & Gender Equity Branch, and the Climate Change Branch.

During these consultations, key figures like Pei-Ju Wang involved with the city’s Anti-Racism strategy and Sharzad Gharabaghi & Emma Langham from the Climate Crisis department have shared valuable insights. Pei-Ju Wang highlighted the city’s Anti-racism strategy plan, while Gharabaghi and Langham led discussions on the climate resilience strategy plan. These consultations serve as a bridge, fostering understanding and collaboration between youth and city departments, resulting in informed decision-making that better addresses the concerns of young residents.

Sub-Committees in Action: Addressing Crucial Issues

OYEC’s sub-committees are tirelessly working on initiatives that directly impact the youth of Ottawa:

  • The Mental Health Subcommittee is partnering with United Way and Ottawa Public Health to organize a crucial conversation on “Youth Mental Health, Substance Abuse & Addiction.” Their initiatives include listening tables, focus groups, and engagement with organizations like the Rural Mental Health Collective and YNRA YAC.
  • The Human Rights Subcommittee collaborates on the Middle Ground Media Project alongside other sub-committees.
  • The Climate Crisis Subcommittee focuses on information dissemination through social media, the green roof project, and continued city consultations.
  • The Affordability Subcommittee is closely involved in the Middle Ground Project, highlighting youth perspectives on affordability challenges.

Building Momentum: OYEC Recruitment is Active

The Ottawa Youth Engagement Committee stands for youth-driven change in the heart of the city. OYEC welcomes young change makers to participate in initiatives like the Middle Ground Project, and to get involved in direct consultations with city departments. OYEC empowers young voices, enhances collaboration, and shapes policies that resonate with the needs and aspirations of Ottawa’s youth. As projects continue to make an impact, the committee exemplifies the importance of active youth engagement in building a better, more inclusive future. This year’s OYEC committee gathered to chat about why they joined and what initiatives they would like to tackle.  If you are interested in learning more about OYEC or become involved as a member, you can learn more here. 

Meet the 2023 Summer Amplified Cohort

Meet the 2023 Summer Amplified Cohort!

At Youth Ottawa, we firmly believe in the power of youth to shape the present and the future. Their innovative ideas have the potential to ignite positive change, not only in their own lives but also within their communities. Each year, we provide support to young entrepreneurs, helping them take their businesses to new heights. Through our Summer Amplified Fellowship, we empower these fellows to transform their social innovation frameworks into sustainable social enterprises.

We’re excited to introduce you to Ben and Sallysha, two inspiring fellows from our 2023 cohort and to shed light on their remarkable projects. Both fellows exemplify the incredible potential of youth in entrepreneurship. With their projects focused on co-designing public spaces and amplifying young changemakers, they demonstrate a commitment to community engagement, sustainability, and making a meaningful impact.

Ben Wright

"Welcome: Co-designing Public Spaces"

Ben’s activation project, called “Welcome,” focuses on co-designing public spaces. His goal is to engage civically-minded youth groups in Ward 13, providing them with facilitation and design tools to create their own spaces. Unlike traditional approaches, Ben’s project empowers community members to design and prototype their ideal spaces. By incorporating human-centered and community-driven design principles, he ensures that the final outcomes truly reflect the community’s desires and effectively meet their needs. The project’s results will be digitally published, allowing others to engage with and apply them in their own communities. Ben is passionate about amplifying the voices of youth in civic conversations, and through the Youth Ottawa Amplified Fellowship, he aims to make a sustainable and lasting social impact.

Sallysha Vital

"The People of Tomorrow (TPOT)"

Sallysha’s project, “The People of Tomorrow (TPOT),” is a creative platform that highlights and encourages the efforts of young changemakers in various fields, including education, social justice, art, science, and innovation. TPOT aims to amplify the voices of young individuals who are making positive impacts in their communities. In this summer fellowship, Sallysha seeks to enhance her leadership skills, inspiring the community through innovative and creative means. She aspires to deepen her understanding of making a significant impact on people and social issues, while also fostering connections with peers, experts, and mentors within Youth Ottawa. By leveraging these abilities, Sallysha envisions a brighter future for TPOT and the communities it serves.

What's next?

If you would like to support our Summer Amplified Fellowship and continue seeing the amazing work of youth like Ben and Sallysha, please consider donating today! Your donations go directly towards our operations at Youth Ottawa, including businesses such as these.

Home is Where Love Grows

Two students work on their laptop together at a desk

Let's Spread the Love this Giving Tuesday

Once upon a time...

We challenged grade 10 students from St. Francis Xavier High School to use their voice to address a social issue in one of our Active Citizenship Initiative programs last year. 

The class created a list of issues they wanted to address, and four of the students–Ella, Noah, Raya and Federica–chose domestic abuse as their issue. 

“We would ask our teacher if it was in the curriculum at all, or if teachers were taught how to deal with it when they learned to become a teacher and we just found it was something that just wasn’t talked about enough and that we could make a change there.”

At first, the group said they struggled with finding the right medium for their message. After floating around a few ideas, they finally landed on their children’s book idea, which Frederica’s little sister would illustrate. 

The book, Home is Where Love Grows, follows the story of two friends, Max and Quincy. The friends live in a world where everyone has flowers growing out of the top of their heads, and all is well until Quincy notices Max’s plant wilting more and more each morning. It becomes Quincy’s mission to help make Max feel better. The plot explores the hidden signs of abuse and teaches youth how to help their friends if they notice these signs.

“I think just because something is difficult, or it’s complicated, it shouldn’t be something that doesn’t get told,” their teacher, Heather Bilder said. “We need to find age-appropriate ways that students can engage with it. This group of students were really thoughtful in the imagery they pulled from their knowledge of metaphor to really go beyond just that surface level… and they looked for meaningful ways that their readers could support a friend.”

In the span of two months, their school project blossomed into a social justice initiative, now being published with the help of Youth Ottawa.

In our ACI programs, classes go through a three-step process: 

1. Our facilitators introduce youth to civic issues, allowing them to choose their focus
2. Students create an “Action Plan” to guide their next steps in tackling the issue, using civic “tactics” such as lobbying, surveying, and petitioning
3. Students execute their action plans, learning while making a positive difference in their communities

In 2021, we introduced ACI students to several call-to-action videos from city councillors, allowing them to choose issues that aren’t addressed enough. Bilder’s class took these challenges on and narrowed their focus to six topics, including domestic abuse. The program was combined with a careers class, allowing them to focus on resume-making to “apply” for positions in their groups. Upon choosing their teams, they began to work on steps two and three.

Chapter 2: From School Project to Real Project

In May, the group of students showcased their work at our Youth Action Showcase, which kicked off Ottawa’s first official Youth Week. The Youth Action Showcase was launched by Youth Ottawa in an effort to bring student projects in front of key decision-makers and thought leaders. 

“You work on a project for a month and you don’t really get much feedback, but we went to City Hall and the amount of positive feedback and the amount of people that went home and said ‘I really love your story,’ just really motivated our group and made us want to keep on doing this,” Noah said.


Ella, Noah, Raya, and Federica standing behind their project presentation booth at Youth Action Showcase. The table has a white tablecloth, green vines loosely wrapped around it, and a poster board on the right side.

Since then, we have met with them bi-weekly from June through August in the hopes of bringing their book into Ottawa libraries in schools, while chatting with them about their goals for the project.

Heather Bilder said she was impressed with their lack of hesitancy in communicating such an important topic, even working on the book throughout the summer. 

“I think a lot of people can be critical of younger generations, and I think watching them take on this complicated topic and problem solve and work in collaboration is like, we’re in good hands,” she said.

Over the summer, they worked on creating an acknowledgement page, and it goes as follows*:

*Please note that this is a preview, and the full page can be found in their book.

Chapter 3 - What’s Next?

The team is also seeking support from programs like Market13 that can help them create a free eCommerce website to sell their book online. 

“Our goal is to get it in as many kids’ hands as possible, just so that they can really read it and understand what the message is,” Federica said.

Along the way, we are working with the students to refine their presentation pitch and teaching the group of youth about accessing the right grants and looking for other funding opportunities, all with the goal of both their personal and professional growth.

Raya, Federica, Noah, and Ella stand in front of a white background holding their book up to the camera

The End…or is it?

This is normally where you’d read “The End” in a story, but these students are nowhere near finished! Their story is just beginning, and they will need your help to turn the next page. Our Giving Tuesday campaign started on Nov. 29 and is now closed. We were able to raise over $4,500 to deliver books to several Ottawa schools and continue funding our ACI program! 

 As a thank you for each donation, we are sending packs of seeds to donors. These seeds are a symbol of support highlighted throughout the book, and we can’t wait to see what they grow. 

Building Communities for Student Success

People listening to a student project presentation

Why Community Engagement Matters for Student Success

Community engagement is the foundation of all that we do at Youth Ottawa. Students who are engaged in their communities are confident in using their voices for change, are active in team cooperation, and have improved communication skills. There are several reasons why small-scale community engagement matters for student success, especially in an era when social media is facilitating global engagement.

In our years running the Active Citizenship Initiative (ACI) program, we have learned about: 

Community engagement builds trust & community

Bilateral communication between youth and their communities foster a sense of trust and belonging in their home communities. In an era where much of our interactions are done online, feeling connected to the real world is getting harder and harder, especially for youth. In order to build our communities, we must spend time in them and trust them to hear our voices. By building these communities up with trust and personal connections, we will eventually find ourselves in safer, happier, and healthier environments.  

According to a study conducted by the Pew Research Institute, 35 per cent of teenagers are “almost constantly” spending their time on social media. A third of them said they spent too much time on social media, while only eight per cent of them said they spent too little time on social media. 

Though phone use may be addictive, it is no question that youth want to be more engaged in their communities, whether online or in person, though many are facing fatigue in the online realm after two years of a pandemic.

Community engagement increases visibility of youth issues

Who better to understand youth issues than youth themselves? As much as adults like to think they understand youth because they used to be youth themselves, times change and world issues change. Youth are the only ones who know what they truly value and what they are concerned about. By listening to their voices, we will be better equipped to help them solve these issues and support them in taking leadership in their communities to build a better future.

Heather Bilder worked with us last year at St. Francis Xavier to implement the Active Citizenship Initiative in her class. One group of her students created a children’s book dealing with domestic abuse.

“I think it’s just really awesome to see how empowered they are when they’re engaged in their learning,” Heather Bilder said about her students. 

In 2020, the General Social Survey (GSS) on Social Identity found that youth were among the least civically engaged in Canadian communities, with only 60 per cent of youth aged 15-30  reportedly interested in politics. Meanwhile, 68 per cent of people aged 31 to 46 and 74 per cent of those aged 47 and older reported interest in politics. However, youth were found to be more engaged in recreational activities or hobbies than those in the older categories, suggesting that youth are interested in the things that affect them most, but may not have the education or encouragement to follow up with civic engagement.

Community engagement promotes fairness, equity and diversity

An engaged community results in a diverse range of voices, ensuring fairness and equity for all sub-groups. In creating an ideal society, youth know what solutions they would like to see. An environment that excludes certain groups of people is not an environment that is safe or positive, and is not an environment that people want to live in. 

Not only is equity about human rights, a fair and diverse environment is one that is also healthy for our identities. Learning from a range of cultures and peoples ensures that we become well-rounded, attentive citizens who can make the world a better place for everyone, from our homes to our workplaces.

Throughout our years running ACI, we’ve come up with several projects addressing this same issue. In 2018, we supported the Mural Project by students from the Glebe Collegiate Institute which featured community artists painting a mural to draw attention to LGBTQ+ history for equity and inclusion. 

In another class, students wrote letters to school boards about a range of topics including the need for more LGBTQ+ topics in their curriculum. 

“LGBTQ+ students have been overlooked by the education system continuously for several decades, leading to hazardous learning environments for any student under the lesbian/gay/bi/trans/queer umbrella. There have been a multitude of faults perpetuating this issue, but it’s time for the Ontario government to take action and provide safe and healthy learning conditions for students of all gender identities and sexual orientations alike.” – A Concerned Student

Our Rainbow Bridges program also used to partner with students to create welcoming spaces in schools, and in 2021, we hosted a film festival to highlight a variety of topics the LGBTQ+ community faces.

Education's role in student engagement & how you can help!

At Youth Ottawa, we help teachers engage students in focused reflection and hands-on experiences that increase knowledge, develop skills, and expand students’ capacity to contribute to their communities. 

Our Active Citizenship Initiative Program (ACI), for example, aims to engage students and transform the world around them. We introduce students to several issues through our educational programming, encouraging them to take action and guiding them along the way. In the past, students have worked on affordable housing, sustainable gardening, and much more.

On November 29th, we will be participating in Giving Tuesday. We have an ambitious goal to support more student projects like the ones highlighted above. From now until December 31st you can do your part in amplifying youth voices, by donating here to our Active Citizenship Intiative. 

The RUN Centre

The new Gil o Julien Fieldhouse scoreboard, funded by councillors Rawlson King and Tim Tierney

The "Rise Up Now" Project

Generational Transformation, One Step at a Time

We’ve all heard the words “baby steps.” Determined yet wobbly steps, taken by unsure feet are all that it takes to create full-scale change. This is what we’re all about here at Youth Ottawa. We believe that actions, no matter how small, could add up to large-scale transformations.

This story all began with a video and an Instagram message.

In 2020, The Ottawa Community Foundation awarded Youth Ottawa a one-time “Emergency Community Support Grant” so they could adapt their programs to a virtual delivery method. As a result, in the spring of 2021 and in the height of the third wave of COVID-19 with schools transiting to remote learning once again, Youth Ottawa released their new Community Challenge videos as part of their Active Citizen Initiative (ACI). In one of the videos, City Councillor Mathieu Fleury asked students to find new ways of offering free access for sport and recreational activities in the Overbrook, Vanier, and Lowertown neighbourhoods.

Coach Chris Lalonde, President of the North Gloucester Giants Community Football Club – a club which has used and maintained the Gil O Julien Fieldhouse for 40 years – had been working with local youth to revitalize other parts of the area, including the fence around the field. They had been in contact with Youth Ottawa through our ACI program, and had seen Mathieu Fleury’s community challenge.

When two OCSB students and teammates Eber Doyle and Josue Basubi heard of this challenge from their coach, an idea came to them. That lightbulb moment would allow them to accept and successfully accomplish the challenge.

Quickly, they messaged Youth Ottawa on Instagram to bring the idea to us. After pitching it to the newly appointed interim Executive Director, Jesse Card, they got the green light to begin their plan.

That summer, Youth Ottawa employed the pair of teammates and friends, and they would spend their time planning the centre and learning several lessons in marketing and entrepreneurship.

Josue said he never saw business as the right career path for him until he started working on this project, which matured both him and Eber into their business mindsets. 

“After the summer, it kind of opened my eyes. It kind of made me realize that I don’t want to be a mechanic, or just play football, I want to be bigger than that – help communities, I want to help people,” Josue said.

Just as fast as this opportunity materialized for Josue and Eber, a friend of theirs was taken away. On July 4th, 20-year-old Loris Tyson Ndongozi, was killed the Sunday night while playing pick-up basketball with a friend in a Lowertown park the week after the boys started their new positions with Youth Ottawa. That tragedy further reinforced the purpose they saw of creating what they had started to envision as The RUN Centre (Rise Up Now) at Gil O Julien Park. 

“We lost two other people [that summer] who were also a vital part of the community and I knew all of them, but when we lost Pancake [Loris], it was kind of like losing a brother to me. So from there on it kind of made me look at life really differently and changed my perspective of things,” Eber said. “Then I wanted to make a change, we all want to make a change, where we want to feel safe. And we genuinely feel like if we had that space before, none of this would have happened.”

Councillor Rawlson King, Josue Basubi & Youth Ottawa Executive Director Jesse Card stand outside the centre (from left to right)
Councillor Rawlson King, Josue Basubi & Youth Ottawa Executive Director Jesse Card stand outside the centre (from left to right)
Loris Tyson Ndongozi

The centre will provide community members with access to programming in sports, recreation, nutrition, and entrepreneurship, while giving an old City of Ottawa facility a second life. 

In a year of merging milestones, we have taken our first steps to completely transform a community in need of it. With the Overbrook community’s centennial anniversary, Youth Ottawa’s 25th anniversary, and this centre to be unveiled during the newly-proclaimed Youth Week in Ottawa, this is surely another milestone to keep in the books. 

Before becoming a city councillor, Rawlson King was president of the Overbrook Community Association. In 2019, he decided to run for City Councillor in the hopes of providing the community with more opportunities. 

For communities such as Overbrook where the rates of poverty are much higher than in other areas of the city, opportunities for structured recreation have been minimal. This lack of structure allows more crime to happen as they face more peer pressure between after-school hours and when their parents come home from work.


Gil O Julien Fieldhouse
The Gil O Julien Fieldhouse, before construction
The new Gil o Julien Fieldhouse scoreboard, funded by councillors Rawlson King and Tim Tierney
The new Gil o Julien Fieldhouse scoreboard, funded by councillors Rawlson King and Tim Tierney

King partnered with councillor Tim Tierney to fund the installation of a new scoreboard at Gil O Julien Field, demonstrating teamwork and supporting the boys in scheduling meetings with the city and getting them other resources. 

“Overbrook is turning 100 years old and it would be nice to ensure that we have this wonderful type of investment,” King said. “I see it as a first step in terms of providing [youth] new opportunities… so that they don’t have to get wrapped up in criminal lifestyles in order to support their way of life. A lot of that just comes down to opportunities.” 

The youth who benefit from our initiatives may also end up returning to give back to the communities from which they come, King mentioned. 

“I think the key is to be able to provide people access to those networks, so that they can either enhance their education, or their labour prospects as they move forward, and then be able to reinvest in the community, and not just in a monetary way,” King said.

This is just the beginning of all the large-scale community transformation that we could accomplish together. Facilities like these exist all over the city. 

As our steps become strides, there is hope to expand projects such as these into other communities.

“My main goal for the community is just to make sure that kids [who] feel like they have nowhere to go have a place to go and be safe. So obviously, that means, you know, possibly expanding to other communities in Ottawa, in Canada maybe, places like Toronto as well, but that’s speaking ahead, but that’s my goal for it,” Eber explained. 

“I’m really excited about that prospect of the potential expansion of the programming, but also ensuring that youth have something to do that’s productive, have that structured during critical hours, where they’re learning skills, I think that that’s, we need more of that,” King said.

As youth leaders, Youth Ottawa gives youth the ingredients to success. It is up to them how they want to use them. In giving students the opportunity to learn skills for themselves, they will have the tools necessary to apply what they learned, rather than repeating whatever it is they crammed into their short-term memory. In short, we aim to form teams with those we work with.

“Josue and Eber and the RUN Centre exemplify exactly what Youth Ottawa does for the City,” said Youth Ottawa’s now-permanent Executive Director, Jesse Card. “What makes us different from other youth organizations is that we don’t tell youth what the solutions and services are for them, but rather we engineer an environment for youth to develop the services and solutions for themselves – and then they also deliver them. The organization has always been small and agile with an entrepreneurial spirit and youth can relate to that”. 

While most of the fieldhouse main floor has been fully functional for youth to engage in fitness programming since last fall, we hope to begin renovations of the fieldhouse this summer after logistics are coordinated with the City.

Construction on the RUN Centre is set to begin in May 2022, starting with a new community kitchen in partnership with the Rockcliffe Rideau Community Resource Centre. It will proceed through to the next spring, adding a deck looking out onto Gil O Julien Field, some excavation and foundation work, some recreation and fitness areas, and a full renovation of the unfinished basement into a entrepreneurship hub.

A big thanks

Youth Ottawa will continue to support the community through the RUN Centre by offering access to its programming, providing employment opportunities and involving their networks of other community partners.

We are grateful for the outstanding support from Councillor King and the City of Ottawa in the progress of this project, especially as we have applied for grants from the city to assist with costs for both renovations and operations.  Councillor King has facilitated considerations around a long term lease of the Gil O Julien Fieldhouse, and is working with us and the community to make additional investments in the park to honour Overbrook’s centenary. We are happy to have made this announcement during National Youth Week.

The Community Challenge

Take a look at the video that inspired this project!

Mathieu Fleury – City Councillor for Rideau-Vanier Ward 

Civics Issue: Recreational Opportunities for Low-income Youth and Families

Community Challenge: What can we do so that every youth in our city that wants to participate in sports can do so in their neighbourhoods?

Next steps

Are you interested in helping us take the next step to generational transformation in the communities like Overbrook? Your donations go directly to our programs, helping amplify student visions for their communities!