by Madison Van West, Democracy Talks Coordinator
Leadership & Community Engagement Training at North York Community House (NYCH) provides participants with the opportunity to learn about formal and informal civic processes in Canada and to work on a community project they feel passionate about. Over 8-10 weeks, the training also offers participants and staff the opportunity to learn from each other’s wealth of experience, which enriches the process and helps form connections between new and established residents.
Each training has two components: workshop and practicum. In the workshop phase this fall, participants learned about principles and levels of community engagement, measures of civic participation, critical thinking, Canada’s levels of government, structure and areas of political responsibility, effective community outreach techniques, Democracy Talks facilitation, action planning and leadership styles. We also visited important political places such as City Hall and Queen’s Park.
During the practicum phase, the participants brought their unique histories and experiences to work together on three issues: healthy food and the Canada Food Guide, Canada’s position on nuclear non-proliferation, and employment equity for internationally educated professionals in Canada.
One team opted to spread the word about a formal Health Canada survey tool that was being used to gain feedback about Canada's Food Guide, which is in the process of being updated, in a project called “Our Voices, Our Choices: Healthy Eating, Healthy Living For All.” They brought the survey to one of NYCH’s English Conversation Circles (ECC) at North York Central Library, where they gathered responses from a group of 25 English language learners who may not have otherwise had their voices heard in these consultations. The team also led a discussion of food-related questions, such as, Why is it important for the government to provide us with healthy eating recommendations? Have your eating habits changed since you moved to Canada? Where do you feel you have greater access to healthy food? and What top 3 government actions would be most helpful to increase access to healthy food for everyone in Canada? With the rich data they collected, they wrote a comprehensive letter to government officials and policymakers outlining the work they had done and the feedback they had received.
Another team explored public awareness about Canada’s position on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament in support of the efforts of Ceasefire.ca. The team suspected that few people were aware that on October 27, 2016 the Federal Government voted “no” on a UN resolution to work towards the ban of all nuclear weapons, and was one of very few nations to do so. They developed a survey to test their theory and discovered that indeed, 74% of people surveyed were not aware of the recent vote. To help spread the word the team prepared and distributed an information package and held many one-on-one information meetings, after which they encouraged people to sign a petition on the Ceasefire.ca website urging action from the Federal government on this issue.
The third team built upon the work of a previous Leadership & Community Engagement Training group by focusing on employment equity for internationally trained newcomers. This petition had been circulated in the spring, and so this team decided to increase the number of signatures that original petition received, both online and on paper. They also planned and facilitated a Democracy Talks workshop on the topic of employment, adapting the activities they had been trained in to achieve their project objectives. They skillfully led the session for a group of ECC participants and volunteers, gaining valuable feedback about the most important employment issues facing newcomers in an enjoyable and accessible way.
Between them, the participants demonstrated many of the impactful ways individuals can become involved regardless of background or citizenship status. They also recognized that we don’t have to take on causes all alone – we can seek teammates, allies, and champions who will help us realize our goals.
Similarly, Leadership & Community Engagement Training is made possible through the resources and expertise we have within NYCH staff and among our networks. For example, this fall was my first time joining Community Engagement Coordinator, Beatriz, who has developed and facilitated the training for the past few years. I was very excited to bring a Democracy Talks train-the-trainer into the curriculum along with John from Samara.
We were also joined by Hui, Manager of Integrated Development, who shared her knowledge of community outreach techniques; Elizabeth, our Training Coordinator, who revealed our colours through a Personality Dimensions workshop (I’m orange); and Howard, our Communications Coordinator who educated us on using social media to share information about a cause.
During the practicum, Language and Literacy Worker, Maria, welcomed us to her ECCs so trainees could share information and engage her participants in their projects. We were also fortunate to bring in guests from TTCRiders and Social Planning Toronto who shared more about their organizations and how participants can get involved in their civic campaigns.
Leadership & Community Engagement Training happens twice a year at NYCH. If you’re interested in participating or know someone who is, email firstname.lastname@example.org or Beatriz at email@example.com to receive details about the upcoming spring training.
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