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.