Nuit Blanche: A Night of Giving

Written by: Vivian Li (Original post on Life@UofT Blog)

Happy Thanksgiving!

In the spirit of gratitude and reflection, this week, instead of reviewing a workshop on facilitation strategies, I wanted to share a cool experience I had with Art Starts on Nuit Blanche (October 5, 2019) that culminated in engaging the public with flash mobs to raise awareness for mental health. Art Starts is a non-profit organization committed to offering inclusive and supportive spaces for youth in marginalized communities to self-explore and to create.

This summer (and leading into the fall), I was part of an Art Starts program managed by Julian Carvajal called “The Colour Wheel Project,” which strove to use colourful dresses symbolizing different emotions (for instance, Sorrow had a blue motif in her clothing, while Joy was wreathed in yellow) in a flash mob with other youth artists, volunteers, dancers, and the Samba Squad to raise awareness for mental health.

 

Part I (August 7 – 27, 2019):

The first part of the project was us youth artists sewing and creating the dresses for the dancers. Actually, I was rather nervous going into these sessions as up until then I’d never touched a sewing machine and I had no idea how to hand-sew either. But I have interests in fashion and I often have ideas about how to design dresses, so I wanted to see if I could learn something from the project.

Our mentors, the wonderful designers Diseiye and Ayodele, were so kind and helped me through the problems I had with the machine, and gave me plenty of advice as to how to make make lines that didn’t snag or catch onto other parts of the fabric. I’m very happy with my results, but I couldn’t have done it without them or the other youth artists.

Vivian holding a green dress                                                                          YAY FOR GREEN!

Part II (August 20- October 5, 2019):

Learning the dance and the first rehearsal! After many hours of hard work in a cold room, it was amazing to see our dresses being tried on for the first time by the dancers! We were told we’d also dance in the flash mob, and we watched the dancers rehearse for the first time.

A post-card detailing the reasons behind the flash mob and the Colour Wheel Project                           THE POSTCARD WE GAVE OUT DURING NUIT BLANCHE!

Part III (October 5, 2019):

Nuit Blanche! The day of the flash mob! We had different structures and the youth artists were engaged in different ways depending on where we went. For City Hall and Scarborough Civic Centre, the volunteers, youth artists, and the Samba Squad were arranged in a rectangular fashion, where the dancers had the space within to express the haunting, moving, and fierce choreography. Then at Bloor-Yonge and Kennedy Station, the dancers had a routine similar to what I saw during the first rehearsal.

Picture of a white mask with beads glued to it         WHAT THE YOUTH ARTISTS AND VOLUNTEERS WORE DURING NUIT BLANCHE! SO                            COLOURFUL! BUT ALSO SCARY!

What the youth artists had to do during the night was hold onto the dancer’s cellphones and carry around a white bag containing flyers, glowsticks, Gatorade, snacks, and flashlights to light the way for the rest of the group, as well as to engage with the public when the gong sounded. Basically, when after the first few drums, we would mingle with the crowd and pass around glowsticks/ flyers to let people know what we were doing. Then, we would return to our places and shine our flashlights at the dancers (mostly The Queen) until Julian gave the signal and we all started to dance our routine.

It was very loud but thankfully there were extra earplugs provided. It was also hard to see at times as my mask kept falling down and I had to hold it in place with one hand while waving my other hand to keep up with the dance. And I definitely accidentally swallowed a bead at one point, when I hit my hand against the mask and opened my mouth for more air. Thankfully it didn’t get caught in my throat, and I’m glad it wasn’t a fly!

Picture of the dancers at Yonge Subway Station                                       IT WAS A FROSTY BUT VIBRANT NIGHT!

There was so much I learned during this whole experience, one of which was definitely the precision and patience required to sew, as well as realizing that there’s always more to explore and discover. It’s always an honour to be part of projects that engage with communities, and the personal experiences people have when encountering art is a gift I never want to stop giving.

CEI Grant: Find Your Path

Written by Tuli Chowdhury

Almost 1 in 4 black students in Toronto drop out of high school. In 2011, Dr Karen Robson at the University of McMaster studied five years of data on race and academic achievement from the Toronto District school board. Results showed that black students had the lowest grades compared to any racial group and were disproportionately represented in applied and special education programs. Only 49% of black students were placed in the academic stream compared to 77% of white students – this means that more than half of the black students in Toronto could never apply to university, even if they wanted to (Verma 2018).

In order to help address the low graduation rates and post-secondary matriculation rates among Black students, we created Find Your Path in 2019 while in high school. Find Your Path is a student-run non-profit organization that aims to help marginalized youth reach their academic potential through the coordination of engaging, restorative educational programing and a scholarship fund. Thanks to funding from the University of Toronto, the Yale University Afro-American Cultural Centre and Eyitayo F. Dada Law, this year we were able to embark on our fourth year of embracing ethnic diversity to help bridge gaps in student achievement as part of the movement for black educational empowerment in Toronto. Our Afrocentric Summer Mentorship & Enrichment Program ran for four weeks at the Rexdale Community Hub during August 2019 serving a total of 28 youth and delivering 2 scholarships. The goal of the program was to increase participant self-confidence and academic engagement so that they are more likely to act in accordance with high academic and professional goals.

The youth participated in weekly experiential learning modules, that drew on African-centred sources of knowledge, covering the four disciplines of: entrepreneurship, medicine, history and civics. For each theme, a successful black professional/expert who was well-versed on the often-neglected African contributions in their discipline, spoke to the youth about their journey. Students were paired with mentors of colour who were current university (undergraduate and PhD), college, medical and law school students. Mentors walked students through fun, thought-provoking Afrocentric academic activities in each of the disciplines in addition to leading discussions on growth mindsets, goal-setting and overcoming barriers.

Our 2019 scholarship winners were Anita Anning and Faizo Mayow, graduating students who will be attending York University and George Brown College in the fall, respectively. They stood out among the applications we received because of their academic excellence and commitment to supporting their communities. We were so happy to award them each with $350 to support them in their exciting and inspirational educational journey as the first in their families to receive a post-secondary education. Both were also able to benefit from the mentoring discussions and insightful speeches in the final day of the enrichment program.

The program began with the theme of entrepreneurship which included an insightful workshop from Chris ‘Mr. Inspired’ Duff, a local entrepreneur and owner of Inspired Initiatives: an innovative consulting firm on a mission to build solutions that level the playing field for marginalized communities and help people in need, which offers a range of services including helping young people monetize their passions. Participants also had the opportunity to compete in an entrepreneurship cup where they designed their own business plans. Mentors led participants in discussions on growth and fixed mindsets.

The theme of the second day was medicine, where the vice-president of the Black Physicians of Ontario, Dr. Andrew Thomas, spoke to the students about his educational and professional journey including attending medical school at a HBCU.  Students participated in a family medicine workshop where they were taught the importance of primary care, explored the implications of the shortage of black male doctors and tried their hand at diagnosing patients through testing reflexes, checking blood pressures and using an otoscope. A lucky few also got the chance to practice suturing on a banana! Mentor pods discussed strategies for overcoming fears and challenges using Maya Angelou’s poetry.

The third day centered on history and included our very first field trip. We partnered with the amazingly talented Jacqueline Scott- a historian and PhD student, who led participants on a black history tour of downtown Toronto focusing on murals, monuments and spaces pertaining to Black influences on the city and country. Mentors also took the time to discuss how they have learnt from their mistakes and how the students can too.

Our fourth and final day began with our keynote speaker, Yale alum and New Haven Alderman, Albert Lucas, who joined us virtually and shared his words of wisdom on civics and giving back to the community. We then showcased local talent through a spoken word performance on how art can lead to self-growth followed by a poetry-writing workshop led by guest Brian Osei-Boateng.  Participants then walked through a series of academic goal-setting activities looking to our mentors as models for setting and achieving high goals. We concluded by giving participants certificates of achievement with unique superlative awards. Finally, we had closing remarks delivered by our long-standing cheerleader and supporter, Eyitayo Dada.

If you would like to learn more or support our work through volunteering or donating, please check us out here: www.fypcanada.com

 

References Cited
Verma, Sonia. “Black Students Still Face Major Hurdles Getting into University.” Brighter  World, 1 May, 2018, https://brighterworld.mcmaster.ca/articles/black-students-still-face-major-hurdles-getting-into-university/

CEI Grant: LAMP Community Health Centre

Written by Rachael Gustave

Members of the South Etobicoke/Lakeshore community have been active in their affordable housing advocacy efforts after seeing increasing barriers to accessing housing. Recent patterns of gentrification and urban renewal in this mixed income community has left long time residents priced out of the current rental market in South Etobicoke. Within the last year, recent trends in Toronto’s rental housing market had amplified impacts on vulnerable groups such as low income residents, newcomers and youth, who have sought support from local service provider agencies to address the impacts of reno-evictions, skyrottening rental prices, and harassment from landlords.

In response to growing community concern, LAMP Community Health Centre became a safe space for residents to voice their concerns and priorities for housing in the neighbourhood. This collective concern had materialized into a neighbourhood housing advocacy and action group that meets monthly to address a local housing strategy.

While a collective vision for affordable housing had been blooming through the community’s recent housing initiatives, input from local youth–those of whom make up a significant part of South Etobicoke/Lakeshore–was largely absent from the conversation. This is where my volunteer involvement with LAMP CHC kicks into gear, as we sought to find avenues to mobilize youth for the ongoing affordable housing initiative.

The 2019 Lakeshore Affordable Housing Youth Round Table was a youth led community initiative aimed to develop a network of local youth who are dedicated to community development and achieving solutions to the affordable housing crisis that includes the needs of all members. Working with a small team of local youth, we were determined to find out how the diverse group of students from the nearby college our impacted by the community’s housing plans.

Through this event, residents had the opportunity to share their experiences with housing in Toronto, gain insights from the most recent statistics and facts about housing, and begin to identify sustainable strategies that will fill the housing demand. The evening featured young professionals involved with advocacy and housing services sharing their experiences about the current rental climate in South Etobicoke. Our keynote speaker from the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario (ACTO) broke down important info about Toronto’s current housing market and options for individuals seeking housing. Local youth discussed their experiences accessing housing and changes they would like to see within their community. Through this dialogue, we found that these local residents want the following in their community:

  1. housing affordability: affordable rents through equitable housing programs such as subsidized housing and maintained rent controls
  2. housing accessibility: housing that is livable for people regardless of their health circumstances
  3. anti-racist & non-discriminatory rental practices: a community of landowners and residents that understand, respect, and value diversity
  4. inclusionary zoning: affordable units available in all new housing developments
  5. collaborative planning: collaborative planning that supports the needs of citizens and other stakeholders
  6. shelter spaces: emergency, short term and long term shelters with adequate support resources
  7. supportive housing models: assisted living support for people with personal and care needs
  8. livable conditions & environmental sustainabilty: housing developments that are well-maintained and safe for the community
  9. diverse housing models: living arrangements that support both traditional and nontraditional households
  10. effective avenues to home ownership: supports for individuals and groups wanting to purchase a home. e.g. co-ownership and rent-to-own programs

It’s important that every person’s voice be heard and included in decisions that will affect their lives. The 2019 Lakeshore Affordable Housing Youth Round Table was an effort to inspire youth towards a vision for an affordable, livable community, where all community members have equitable access to public goods including housing, education and social services. This should be our standard for progress in society.

CEI Grant: Salam from Niagara Falls

Iranian and Afghan artists participating were asked to share and digitally manipulate photographs from their personal archives at Niagara Falls alongside family and chosen family. All works are mixed media, using digital manipulations to complicate relationships with “home” and the nostalgia associated with Niagara Falls as a place for affirming our (Iranian and Afghan migrant/refugee) belonging in Canada. Zahra Rajabi is a product designer fascinated by what constitutes belonging in the digital world. Rajabi pairs images of popular Canadian landmarks alongside family photographs in Afghanistan to think through the ways that “home is (re)created through art”. Ferozan Nasiri is an Afghan community organizer and educator interested in the ways that members of the Afghan diaspora use different modes and mediums to theorize, articulate, and represent their lived experiences locally and globally – especially through storytelling. Nasiri uses Afghan textiles as the backdrop of her work to evoke a feeling of familiarity for Afghan audiences engaging with her work. Through her artist statement Nasiri pays tribute to complicated relationships to belonging which are “as complex and non-linear as our distinct experiences with migration.” Melika Hashemi is a multidisciplinary artist whose projects are informed by her social and pedagogical concerns regarding marginality and resistance (and grounded by her hyphenated experiences with Iran and Canada). Through works such as Ayeneh Kari (2019), Hashemi transforms her family photographs at Niagara Falls into (digital) traditional Persian mirror handiwork. Swarm is an anonymous street artist based inTiohtià:ke (Montreal) and whose primary medium is wheatpaste and graffiti. Swarm’s artistic contribution included a digital manipulation of the Canadian flag, hung upside down to signal the distress and urgency surrounding Canada’s contribution toclimate change via settler colonialist resource extraction that has been ongoing since the first waves of colonization.

The collaboration between Afghan and Iranian artists grew organically as we already shared space in our movements against islamphobia, against sexism, against racism, and against other structural conditions which shape our lives and the lives of those we love. More specifically, we shared space in our movements against sanctions (which are mostly discussed in relation to the flow of Iranian products but) which restrict the mobility and livelihoods of people first and foremost including for Afghan people. While cultural and linguistic commonalities acted as a starting point for our collaborative project, we attempted to ensure that we centred our own entry points rather than flattening or conflating Afghan and Iranian experiences especially because we all held different relationships to migration, class, faith, and shadeism. The significance of Niagara Falls for new immigrant and migrant communities is not limited to Afghan and Iranian diasporas however we centred what we know to strengthen our work and ensure we were only speaking from lived experiences.

Note: this question is hard to answer without placing blame/shame on community members who are often doing their best in the face of overt racism, microagressions, delayed visa/immigration applications, etc. but anti-Blackness, anti-Indigeniety, and attachments to neoliberal notions of productivity (rooted in racial capitalism and property rights facilitated through theft of Indigenous land) continue to be prevalent in our respective diasporas. A lot of artistic practice also continues to think through the “٣rd space” that first and second generation Iranian and Afghan people navigate without asking: “what are the limits of making claims for belonging on stolen land?” We are invested in questioning how diasporic claims for static and grounded relationships to place are harmful in reproducing notions of time as linear and more broadly, assimilating into the white settler state which isn’t broken but rather built to operate at the expense of Black, Indigenous, and racialized people. In producing her works, Ferozan Nasiri notes that she thought about an imaginary thread between her family photographs and ijaza (consent) in relation to the land. She insists that consent is a part of a dialogue that should have a place in the collective consciousness of the Afghan diaspora, especially as “we navigate, recreate, and speak on different spaces of belonging here.” While we are concerned about the lack of discussions around settler colonialism and anti-Blackness in Iranian and Afghan communities, we are indebted to the mobilizing happening across Turtle Island by platforms including (but most definitely not limited to) Canadian Roots ExchangeDiaspora Express, and LAL .

Melika Hashemi draws from The Audre Lorde Questionnaire to Oneself (1980) to grapple with the limits of language and feelings of unbelonging which we do not always yet have the words for. Diaspora Express makes conversations on home-making and settler colonialism accessible by asking its members “what brought us to this land and what can we do in solidarity with rightful owners of this land?” While many Iranian politicians stand by a Prime Minister who has continuously failed to seek Indigenous peoples consultation and who upholds a history of land grabbing by the Canadian nation-state (including through pipeline expansions and tar sands extraction), we look towards futurities beyond surface level representation and towards honouring treaties and enacting different ways of inhabiting and most importantly, sharing space for ourselves and the generations to come.

In short, the most concrete piece which inspired this exhibit is the photographs that each of us have at Niagara Falls and the complicated relationship to home that we continue to think through/carve out.

Student Profile: Iris Deng – Student, Artist, and Leader

Meet Iris Deng, a fourth-year student at the University of Toronto and good friend of the Centre for Community Partnerships (CCP). Her involvement at the CCP has been an integrated part of her University of Toronto life; from volunteering to writing and graphic design, Iris has been involved with the CCP in various roles and perspectives. Iris’ involvement began during her first year of study for February 2017’s Alternative Reading Week, and she has since pursued other volunteer and work-study positions.

It was my first year. I was living in res, and I saw the poster. It said: ‘What are you doing during reading week? Consider Alternative Reading Week!’ I was intrigued,” says Iris.

Alternative Reading Week is an annual volunteering experience organized by the Centre for Community Partnerships in which students spend three days working on various projects with local community organizations. Iris spent her first Alternative Reading Week with the Innovation Hub. “The Innovation Hub is a student-led initiative that collaborates with partners in the university community to research and ideate innovative strategies for improving the campus experience” (Innovation Hub).

The following year, Iris was inspired to rejoin Alternative Reading Week as a project leader, collaborating with students on a mural for ArtHeart at Daniels Spectrum. “A community cultural hub, Daniel’s Spectrum is home to several art-based communities such as ArtHeart, whose mission is to build self-esteem and self-reliance for children, youth, adults, and families in the Regent Park community” (ArtHeart Community Art Centre). In addition to her interest in psychology and economics, her two majors, Iris also has a passion for visual arts and design: “I draw portraits, photo-realistic drawings, and in recent years, comics and graphics too”. Along with her contributions as a project leader for Alternative Reading Week at ArtHeart, Iris has also applied her technical art skills through comics for the University of Toronto’s “The Varsity” and her work-study positions at the CCP. During her second and third years at the University of Toronto, Iris worked in the CCP work-study position of Communications and Promotions.

(Left) Iris (5th from the right) and her teammates in front of the 2018 ArtHeart Mural created during Alternative Reading Week. (Right) A sketch of Iris’ ‘lovely squad’ during the 2018 Alternative Reading Week.

During her second year of study (and first work-study period), Iris also worked for Student Life’s blog, representing the CCP and writing alongside other U of T divisions. She proposed formatting her blog posts as comics with blurbs, making the comics the emphasis of her posts: “I got to incorporate my artistic skills. I got tired of writing so I asked: “Can I draw instead?”

Comics from Iris’ Student Life blog.

Henceforth blogging for Student Life through comics, Iris blogged in a personal and unique style. For her CCP position, she undertook numerous projects that allowed her to apply her graphic design and illustration skills, including poster and t-shirt designs. For one such project, she illustrated for the CCP’s children book “Bloom’s Community Garden”, of which 70 copies were printed.

“It was hard balancing everything. I was working at the CCP, and that made me want to be more involved in the events that they held. I had to attend them and blog about my experiences for my Student Life blogger position, which I really enjoyed. I was glad to incorporate my artistic skills.”

Illustrations by Iris from “Bloom’s Community Garden”.

During her third year, Iris was a photographer for Alternative Reading Week and delivered a public speech during its orientation. She also continued in her role as Communications and Promotions Assistant at the CCP. Through the variety of roles she has assumed at the CCP, Iris has gained skills from digital art to writing, blogging, and even public speaking. “In a work-study position, you aren’t limited. Your skills come up and that’s what you can bring to the table. I guess I brought artistic skills. From there you learn even more. Being involved has helped me grow in many ways. …  I made some opportunities happen and some just happened to me! CCP was a starting point and I jumped to different places, like Student Life and University of Toronto Student Union (UTSU), but I always came back because there’s always more I can learn.”.

Now in her fourth year of study, Iris continues to be involved with the CCP. She plans to finish her Bachelor’s degree in 2020 and pursue a career in communications, design, or marketing. “I don’t want to limit myself to these fields though”, says Iris. Additionally, she plans to further pursue her visual arts skills through formal training and practice. “I’d love to have a stall at an art exhibition or show, or sell my art.” Check out her Instagram page to see more of her amazing work, or click here to see her illustrations for the Varsity!

Iris D. (@shh.who.draws) • Instagram photos and videos

See Instagram photos and videos from Iris D. (@shh.who.draws)

www.instagram.com

Drawings from Iris’ Instagram page.

Works Cited

“ArtHeart Community Art Centre.” Daniels Spectrum, danielsspectrum.ca/tenants/artheart-community-centre/.

“Our Work.” The Innovation Hub, blogs.studentlife.utoronto.ca/innovationhub/our-work/.

 

CEI Grant: Primary Stroke Prevention

We are a team of graduate students from the Translational Research Program at the University of Toronto. Thanks to the funds provided by the Center for Community Partnerships, we were able to complete our capstone project, titled “Primary Stroke Prevention: Comparison of Information Sharing Preferences of At-risk Patients with Family Physicians’ Practices”. The overarching framework for this capstone project used the translational thinking design, which consists of two phases: problem exploration phase and translation phase. This is a key conceptual framework for translational researchers to define the problem in the context of the needs of the people and design a project that can have an impact in the community. While the goal for our capstone project was to complete the exploration phase, the translation phase was left to be conducted post-masters.
As part of our exploration and to help conclude this phase of the translational thinking framework, we conducted a mixed methods study. It was during this part of the capstone project that we used the funds provided by the Center for Community Partnerships, for which we are very thankful. For this study, we recruited 14 at-risk patients (e.g. hypertension, dyslipidemia, atrial fibrillation), 5 stroke survivors and 13 family physicians.

We used quantitative (surveys) and qualitative (focus groups/interviews) methods to address three main questions:
– What is the current stroke literacy?
– What are the barriers to effective preventing counselling?
– What types of communication strategies would be perceived to be effective for promoting education of primary stroke prevention?

The results of our study indicate limitations in the literacy of stroke survivors and at-risk patients, and limitations in the abilities of family physicians in managing stroke risk factors and stroke prevention. Primarily, we found that there is a large gap between family physicians’ education on primary stroke prevention to their patients in comparison with patients’ perceptions. Top barriers to primary prevention from the family physician’s perspective include the lack of time, funding, prioritization of unhealthy lifestyles, team-based solutions, convenient and effective risk assessment tools, guideline-based physician education, and coherent patient education materials.
During the next part of the project we plan to use the information gathered during this exploration phase and develop translational prototypes in partnership with the three stakeholders to improve patient education and self-empowerment in stroke prevention. Also, we are certain that our research will serve as a stepping stone for other researchers interested in generating tangible solutions for people in the community.
Once again, we would like to express our gratitude to the Centre for Community Partnerships at the University of Toronto. The completion of our research project would not have been possible without their incredible support!

Click here learn more about our Community-Engaged Initiatives Grant

CEI Grant: The Industry Team Case Study

The Industry Team Case Study initiative, bridging the gap between academia and industry

It can be difficult for graduate students deeply immersed in academic research to find the necessary prerequisite experience to apply for many industry jobs. To equip U of T students with industry-relevant skills, the Life Sciences Career Development Society (LSCDS) launched the Industry Team Case (ITCS) program since 2015, in collaboration with the Science Career Impact Project (SCIP), a volunteer organization founded by U of T alumni with a mission to deliver transformational experiences to science trainees seeking careers in industry. This year, ITCS continues to be one of the most sought-after programs offered by the LSCDS.

The ITCS program gives trainees the opportunity to work on industry-relevant projects as they prepare for the job market. This initiative involves a four-month program during which teams of three to five students collaborate on a trainee-directed project with an industry facilitator, culminating in presentations to industry professionals and members of the life sciences community. Projects focus on regulatory and medical affairs, ranging from the development of a regulatory framework for cannabis-infused edibles to positioning CAR T cell therapy for Priority Review by Health Canada. Indeed, as one trainee testifies, “ITCS goes beyond single event engagements where the discussion on industry roles is surface level, consequently leading to a poor understanding of industry positions; as well as excels in contrast to other mentorship opportunities where no project is being pursued.”

Through ITCS, trainees build their professional network, learn the expectations of an industry position, and deliver projects to supplement their job applications. “The ITCS Project has provided an excellent opportunity to learn of different roles in the pharmaceutical industry and gain experience in a simulated project,” said one trainee, now a market analyst. She continues, “Unlike classroom lectures, ITCS offers the first-hand experience into the healthcare industry from working professionals; a perspective that can’t be learned from a textbook. These insights enabled me to be comfortable in discussing various aspects of market access during my job interview.”

The 2018 ITCS program was highly successful, drawing over 120 trainees to the initial information session. After a rigorous selection process, 10 four-member teams were formed, comprising of MSc and upper-year Ph.D. students. Building upon our mission to raise awareness of industry careers to students of all life science disciplines, the program’s participants came from various departments, ranging from Molecular Genetics and Biochemistry to Rehabilitation Sciences and Immunology. Overall, over 85% of trainees from the 2018 ITCS reported that the program strengthened their job applications and helped them receive the job offers they sought. Facilitators also valued the mentorship experience they gained during the program and enjoyed the opportunity to network and give back to the scientific community.

Finally, we are extremely grateful to have received support from the Centre for Community Partnerships at U of T, as the project would not have been the success it was without their amazing support!

Click here learn more about our Community-Engaged Initiatives Grant

CEI Grant: Dig In!

Written by Samantha Lucchetta (Dig In! Campus Agriculture Co-Coordinator)

Starting a community garden from the seeds of an idea isn’t always easy. Getting a garden started on-campus can sometimes be tough and oftentimes is costly work. This is why we were so glad that CCP gave us their support in 2018, enabling us to build two raised beds behind Campus Co-op as part of the new Youth Food Centre.

For the past ten years, Dig In! Campus Agriculture has been establishing and maintaining edible green-spaces across the University’s campus. From March until the first frost of winter, we run twice-weekly garden workdays that are open to current students and non-student community members alike. Wanting to put our heads together with other like-minded individuals, this past spring we teamed up with Regenesis, a student-run environmental organization, becoming an initiative of theirs. Through Regenesis UofT, we were introduced to the folks at Campus Co-op, who eagerly welcomed the idea of a food garden being situated at one of their residential buildings. We were very excited at the prospect of establishing another garden on-campus, where we could get our hands dirty and dig in to fresh, communally-grown vegetables.

The Campus Co-op Community Food Garden was constructed in May 2018 with the help of Dig In! and Regenesis volunteers, graduate students from the Faculty of Forestry, and Campus Co-op residents. Despite the shady location, a variety of plants flourished in these new raised garden beds. Throughout the season, volunteers who came out to our garden workdays had access to the garden, taking home free organic produce and helping to keep the gardens healthy. Tuscan kale, purple tomatillos, ground cherries, radishes, and cucumbers are just some of the vegetables that were grown at Campus Co-op. In autumn, the new gardens were shown as part of garden tours and utilized at communal cooking events. One event, which was a collaboration between Dig In!, Community Kitchen, Regenesis, Campus Co-op, and NishDish, was the highlight of the season.

I like to think that every garden is like a classroom; the seasons are your teachers, and you learn each of your lessons as time goes on. This year was a very experimental one. We weren’t sure what plants would do well at Campus Co-op, how many seedlings we would need to fill-in the raised beds, or how much we’d end up harvesting. We now have a better idea of what we’re working with, and we’re sure that we can make next year’s harvest even more successful. As a novice gardener myself, I think that I learn something new every garden workday, whether it’s about gardening in general, how to work together to make a communal space, why agriculture needs to become more sustainable, or the importance of good food in bringing people together. I’m sure that whoever comes out to get their hands dirty with us feelsthe same way. We are already sowing next year’s plans for the Campus Co-op Community Food Garden, which we hope will include building two more raised beds to double the gardening space.

Thank you again to CCP for their continued support with this project and others. Thank you also to Campus Co-op and its residents for continually being engaged, friendly, and open. And finally, thank you to all of our many volunteers who helped make this season’s events amazing.

Click here learn more about our Community-Engaged Initiatives Grant

CEI Grant: What We Take – Exhibition of Emerging Toronto-based Artists

Written by Hannah Johnston (exhibition co-curator)

What We Take was a juried contemporary art exhibition featuring 8 emerging Toronto-based artists: Shabnam Afrand, Ahmed Babolly, Ioana Dragomir, Joon Hee Kim, Michelle Lewin, Yasmeen Nematt Alla, Asma Sultana, and Polina Teif. The exhibitionexplored how the things we take with us from one place to another both confirm and disrupt our understandings of home. Feelings of displacement are common for many people in and around the Greater Toronto Area. Globally, we’re in the midst of a refugee crisis resulting in huge amounts of immigration worldwide; locally, high rent prices in the GTA are forcing people out of the downtown core. ​This exhibition showcased works of art that deals with themes of transience, home, and migration. It was a valuable and important opportunity to showcase new and different voices in Toronto and surrounding areas.

The exhibition was curated by three students from the Master of Museum Studies program at U of T: Eleanor Howell, Hannah Johnston, and Aline Zara. It was located at the John B. Aird Gallery in downtown Toronto. The gallery rotates art exhibitions on a monthly basis, and frequently hosts independent curators. Planning What We Take began in October 2018. We wanted the exhibition to be welcoming to visitors – even those who might be uncomfortable or unfamiliar with contemporary art. We focused our interpretive efforts on creating dialogue, situating the artists as individuals, and encouraging interactivity.

As emerging professionals ourselves, we are committed to supporting fellow emerging youth and immigrant artists in our community by not only providing them with with a platform to showcase their work, but with programming opportunities that allow them to network and gain valuable skills. With the support of the Community Engaged Initiatives Program, our curatorial team was able to offer additional educational programming during the exhibition’s run.  On March 7th, we hosted an artist panel with three of the eight exhibiting artists: Ioana Dragomir, Yasmeen Nematt Alla, and Polina Teif. We discussed the works on display, shared insights about the curatorial process, and answered attendants’ questions about the exhibit, the artists, and the overall themes.

We are so grateful to received support from the Centre for Community Partnerships at U of T, as the project would not have been the success it was without their amazing support!

Images from the Opening Reception, February 28, 2019:

Co-curators from left to right: Eleanor Howell, Aline Zara, and Hannah Johnston

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CEI Grant: Chestnut Community Outreach Team

A reflection by Student Life Programs Coordinator, Sonja Smiljanic

When I began my role at Chestnut Residence & Conference Centre in the Residence Life Office in January 2019 I was pleased to learn about our Outreach Team and partnership with the Child Development Institute. Our office was initially connected with CDI through our Dean of Residence and Director of Student Life, who had worked with the organization in the past. Our office has been collaborating with them on programming for about a year now through the Chestnut Community Outreach Team, which aims to connect our residence community to partners in the city.

Child Development Institute (CDI) is an accredited children’s mental health agency in Toronto that offers programming for children ages 0-12, youth ages 12-18, and their families. Their programming spans across four distinct streams: Early Intervention Services, Family Violence Services, the Integra Program, and Healthy Child Development. CDI aims to work with children and their families to uncover their abilities, support them in overcoming challenges, and giving them tools for success. One of their programs, SNAP (Stop Now And Plan), aims to support children and youth who have engaged in problematic, aggressive, and/or antisocial behavior or who have been in conflict with authority figures. This is the specific program we have engaged with through collaboration. Our outreach team has hosted the group once before on campus and last year visited their facility in the city.

I was part of the team that planned our outreach days in March 2019. These days brought two youth groups from SNAP to campus on two separate days to get a taste for Post Secondary life. We engaged with campus partners at Hart House to offer the groups fun activities like basketball, arts and crafts, human-sized Snakes & Ladders, and other fun team building games. We partnered with MoveU, Get Crafty, and Varsity Athletics to provide these fun opportunities and we could not be more grateful for their involvement in these outreach days. After our time at Hart House we enjoyed a tasty lunch at the New College dining hall and ended each day by going on a campus tour tailored to the interests of the participants. Highlights included the rare book library, Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport, and none other than the bookstore.

The feedback from the youth members and CDI staff alike was very positive. One of the most notable successes was getting our Chestnut students and other students through Hart House and Varsity involved. The informal conversations between the participants and the students proved to be highly engaging and helpful. We also had informal Q & A time and the participants had a lot of highly inquisitive and thoughtful questions around admission requirements, tuition fees and finances, student life, and residence. The time we took to answer questions and engage in informal conversation ended up being deeply valuable because the participants got to better understand what it was like to be a U of T student and we as staff and program organizers got to understand our partners on a greater level.

While we considered our March Community Outreach days to be successful there were definitely some lessons reinforced and also learned:

  1. Get to know your community partner: as a new staff member I found it really helpful to do my research on CDI and the SNAP program ahead of time. It helped to frame the planning process for me and also made it easier for me to advertise the program and get students signed up to volunteer. I talked to colleagues, researched online, and read through old email threads to get a clear understanding of the organization and the state of our collaborative relationship with them.
  2. Start planning earlier than you think you need to: though we reached out to campus partners early we still felt the crunch before the program days in confirming groups, spaces, and timing. I think if we had reached out approximately 2 weeks earlier much of the last minute confirmations and associated stress could have been avoided. Lesson learned!
  3. Leave a larger buffer for the start time if participants are arriving from various locations: both days ended up starting later than planned by as much as 45 minutes which threw off our schedule and associated campus partners’ schedules as well. We had youth arriving from various locations in the morning and then travelling together via TTC just after rush hour. In hindsight starting the program later or planning for a larger buffer would have been helpful to everyone’s schedules and been more respectful to other campus partners we were working with.
  4. Carve out time for informal chats: I found this to be especially important for outreach initiatives where the U of T experience is at the forefront of discussion. Our youth participants were more interested in talking to students than to staff when it came to learning about the U of T student experience. In the future we’ll keep that in mind when building the schedule.
  5. Printed material can be a wonderful supplementary tool: some of the questions around admissions and financing studies would have been easier to answer with resources from the various Faculties. As staff we pulled on our collective experience working on campus however in hindsight we should have had this information ready to go in take-away form for the participants. My suggestion is if you’re hosting groups that could be prospective students one day to have some recruitment/admission material ready to go so that information is readily available.

Overall my experience in helping to coordinate our Community Outreach days in March was very positive. The gaps in planning weren’t absolutely detrimental to the experience but the lessons they taught will be very helpful in the future. Chestnut’s Community Outreach Team is really proud of the connection we have with Child Development Institute and it’s a partner we look forward to collaborating more with in the future!

Due to protecting the identity of those in the SNAP program we are not able to share photos of our time together, but if anyone has questions about our experience coordinating this collaborative program please don’t hesitate to reach out. I can be reached using the contact information below.

Sonja Smiljanic
Student Life Programs Coordinator
Chestnut Residence & Conference Centre
University of Toronto
sonja.smiljanic@utoronto.ca
416-585-3154

Click here learn more about our Community-Engaged Initiatives Grant