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.”
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.
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?
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!