Social work students celebrate NOISE-Makers and making change in the community

More than 200 youth and their adult allies will assemble at the Sandra Faire and Ivan Fecan Theatre Monday, April 29, to celebrate 'A Place for All: Living, Learning, Building Community.'

The event is described as a Spring Festival of Learning that will provide an opportunity for the New Opportunities for Innovative Student Engagement (NOISE) participants to share results and lessons from their collaborative social action projects.

Kathe Rogers has just completed her Master's in Social Work (MSW) and worked part-time on the NOISE project. She said the project was "a case study for how to work to help youth in marginalized communities. We chose Jane and Finch (community) because it's our community."

The young people participating in the project are drawn from Grades 9 and 12 at Emery Collegiate, Rogers said. They have found that "as youth get older, their assets decline, particularly in the transition years." And the important transition years are the first and last years of high school.

One of the benefits of the project is the multi-directional mentoring and support that results from the bringing together of different cohorts, she said. Besides the youth, the pods are composed of undergraduate social work students, alumni and faculty, with the MSW students acting as facilitators. The MSW students are attached to the project through a Graduate Assistantship.

Ms Rogers explained that each group was arranged in a pod, or action group. Working from the Toronto Vital Signs Report, each group decided on an issue to tackle and the action plan they wanted to develop and deploy. There were eight pods in total and each pod had between seven and thirteen members.

The youth are a big part of the process, she said. "The youth are providing their own lived experience. They are members of the community and they are the people who face these issues."

For Jessamyn Needham, one of the social work Graduate Assistants (GAs), "It was a really amazing experience, although it was really overwhelming at first. We were all pretty freaked out, and also because it was a pilot project."

But, she said, it all came together rather well as the process progressed. "It turned out to be an amazing experience to work with the youth."

Her sentiments are echoed by Miriam Charendoff, another GA with the project. "It was awesome. It was a lot of responsibility, but it was a great responsibility."

Ms. Needham said she was engaging the young people, weekly and often daily and as a group. Because the young people were used to communicating through texting and Facebook, a lot of communications for the project occurred that way.

Her group settled on doing a NOISEcast- modeled after a newscast, but looking at how the media portrays the Jane/Finch community. The group started a YouTube channel and each member of the group took on different roles to perform the work. There was also some changing of those roles, she said. And while it's still being pulled together, Ms Needham said it will be ready for the celebration.

Ms. Charendoff said her group took an arts and culture approach. Her group had seven participants, including her, three young people from Emery Collegiate, one undergraduate social work student, one post-BSW student, and an alumnus.

Their project followed two streams: dance and drama; and a photography and visual arts stream. "(Our job was to) come up with personal stories and work together as a team to incorporate those stories," Ms Charendoff said. Those stories were put together into a collage. She said they have nine boards that are all connected which will be on display at the celebration.

According to Ms Needham, one of the functions of the project was to get the young people onto the Keele Campus for meaningful engagement, to make the university much more accessible to them. As a result of the experience one of the Grade 12 students from her group will be attending York as a student this September.

"They were meeting people they wouldn't have otherwise," she said.

The NOISE project is described as a research-informed model for enhancing the academic success of youth from the Jane/Finch community and York University social work students through engaged learning opportunities that energize and support their civic engagement and psycho-social well-being. Jane/Finch youth and social work students work together in community action pods on social action projects relevant to contemporary socio-political-economic conditions in the Jane/Finch community. For more information see the Facebook page.

The celebration will take place Monday April 29, from 5:00 to 7:30 pm in the Sandra Faire and Ivan Fecan Theatre in the Accolade East building. Registration and a pre-event reception with refreshments and viewing of the social action projects will begin in the CIBC Lobby outside the theatre beginning at 4:30 pm. There will also be a post-event reception in the lobby from 7:30 to 8:00 pm. This event is free, but attendees must register online in advance at http://www.APlaceforAll.EventBrite.ca.

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