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U of T Scarborough teams up with local groups for “Youth-Friendly” designation in East Scarborough

A partnership of local organizations including U of T Scarborough were able to help secure a “youth-friendly” designation for East Scarborough. The designation was presented during a special ceremony earlier this year in Collingwood, Ontario. (Submitted Photo)

A partnership of local organizations including U of T Scarborough were able to help secure a “youth-friendly” designation for East Scarborough.

The designation is part of the Youth Friendly Communities initiative run by Play Works, a non-profit that recognizes communities in Ontario who meet the needs of youth through various activities including recreation, arts, drama, sports and dance.

Partnering on the project involved several community groups including the East Scarborough Boys & Girls Club, local youth, the East Scarborough Storefront, the City of Toronto and UTSC.

“Fully partnering with a community is a much more ethical and sustainable way to work within that community because you can better articulate their needs and wants,” says City Studies Associate Professor Ahmed Allahwala, whose students helped provide research for the project.

“This initiative was also never about recognition—it was about being able to create a group that could address youth issues by having them involved in the process. The ultimate goal was to create leadership opportunities for local youth in developing strategies for community development and advocacy within East Scarborough.”

Starting in 2012, students enrolled in Allahwala's Urban Communities and Neighbourhoods Case Study: East Scarborough began assessing whether East Scarborough met various criteria including dedication to youth play, access to facilities, funding, inclusivity, and whether youth are celebrated and recognized.

Communities that meet a minimum of 10 out of 16 criteria are given a “youth-friendly” designation by Play Works. The designation was officially awarded during a special celebration earlier this year in Collingwood.

"We had a very grassroots approach with youth heavily involved in the process," says Howard Moriah, Manager of Youth & Community Outreach Services at the Boys & Girls Club of East Scarborough.

"Hopefully others can adopt a similar approach and engage youth when it comes to youth-driven initiatves like these because it can be very effective."

Each year, between 21 and 26 UTSC students worked on the project and the research was done collaboratively with the community. One important finding was that although many play options exist for youth in East Scarborough, many people are not aware of them.

“It was such a unique experience because the research and data gathering was so hands-on,” says Barrah Faysal, a fourth-year City Studies and Public Policy student. Faysal helped with conducting surveys of youth and spoke to key participants in East Scarborough on how various opportunities for youth play are communicated. She found while many organizations were social media savvy, most did not have information posted in different languages.

“East Scarborough is incredibly diverse with many new immigrants living here but we found some things were not meeting their needs in terms of effective communication,” she says.

One significant outcome of the Youth Friendly Communities project has been the creation of L.I.F.T., Let’s Inspire For Today, a community-based committee of local youth. L.I.F.T. offers a platform for local youth to share their voice on community issues through advocacy, leadership and empowerment.

“There’s no advocacy group for youth living in East Scarborough, so L.I.F.T. fits a definite need,” says Ajeev Bhatia, a Community Resource Specialist with the East Scarborough Storefront.

“This gives young people a chance to not only hold organizations accountable but also helps in developing plans and ensures youth have a voice when it comes to community programs.”

© University of Toronto Scarborough