Historically, HeartWood’s Youth Action Team approach was a flagship program demonstrating our Community Youth Development model, facilitated across Nova Scotia in several communities. However funding for that model and organizational priorities shifted such that we were no longer able to host these teams in the way we had, and the program was shelved until conditions changed.

Over the last few years, we’ve fielded abundant inquiries and interest from community organizations wanting develop and hone their capacity for youth engagement. Many of these conversations nudged us to consider how we might reinvigorate a Youth Action Team model under different conditions – particularly where there seemed to be a deficit in financial capacity to invest in this critical work.

A call for proposals from the United Way in 2015 appeared to be the tipping point. We jumped at the opportunity to support other community organizations to engage more youth in leadership positions through a Youth Action Team approach and reached out to several community organizations to gauge their interest. The United Way funding priorities further nudged us to consider how we might develop capacity for Community Youth Development using a Youth Action Team model, while mobilizing our interest in bridging geographic and experiential barriers across communities. With this opportunity at our doorstep, we dove into the work of creating a project model that would foster and transform opportunities for youth within and across their communities, while strengthening networks of support in the region.

After receiving news that our funding application had been successful (even if for slightly less than we’d asked), we were delighted to be once again working in the realm of supporting Youth Action Teams in Nova Scotia. In the Spring of 2016 we eagerly began our work to support our partners, IMOVE through the Uniacke Centre for Community Development, The Deanery Project, and the YMCA Centre for Immigrant Programs.

In our first year, our most significant investment was in establishing the conditions and strengthening the foundation for groups of youth to work together and take action in each community. It was nuanced and interesting to navigate the different contexts and communities of each of our partnering organizations: we were committed to working with them to establish paths forward that responded and built on their realities… and struggled with how that complicated the way we had imagined convening the three groups to share experience and support building relationships amongst them.

That challenge aside – it was a brilliant first year. At the conclusion of the first year of this project, a vibrant group of newcomer youth at the YMCA Center for Immigrant Programs is conducting an asset map, using film to document interviews with community members about the strengths and challenges of their geographic community, and the ways those same community members believe a group of youth could make a positive impact. Looking forward into this next year, they hope to present their footage to different community partners to advocate for change, as well as implement a project based on the direction from their interviewees.

The Deanery Project continues to navigate the challenge posed by transportation limitations on the Eastern Shore, but is forging ahead with recruitment and community building efforts with related organizations in the area. This includes connections to an inspiring group of youth leaders in an HRM leadership program, and a program in development to connect youth and elders through historically significant and culturally relevant agricultural practices.

Finally, IMOVE has established a small but mighty Youth Action Team, diving into the transformative work of challenging negative misconceptions and stigma against their community through a photo voice, music, and dance project. This team of youth meets weekly to amplify their own voices, build their skills, and contribute to a narrative that reflects the strength and beauty of their community. A team of young adult supporters contribute their passion and skill in support of these youth and their community.