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Reflecting on year two of our project – and the impact of the global pandemic

By: Lily Viggiano, Youth Asset Builder

January 17, 2021

On Monday, November 30 the Halton Youth Initiative hosted a volunteer recognition event to honour the time, talent and heart that our volunteers contributed to the project. Our volunteers are ages 12-17 coming from all around Halton Region. The Halton Youth Initiative project originated in North Oakville in 2018, and soon grew to include Acton, Aldershot and Milton neighbourhoods thanks to an Ontario Trillium Foundation grow grant. Those teams are called: the North Oakville Youth Development Council, the Aldershot Youth Crew, the Seven Somebodies (Acton) and the Milton Youth Action Team.

In mid-March 2020, while running a volunteer meeting in Milton and North Oakville, we got word that schools were closing for at least two weeks. The rooms were tense, wondering what’s next. We worried about our volunteers, their family, friends, and loved ones. So we pivoted to virtual immediately after March Break. Tackled new technology. Created space for people to come together, to talk, volunteer and connect with people in uncertain times. We were officially “borderless” – and volunteers were able to choose their teams based on interest, instead of postal code.

As the pandemic, quarantines and lockdowns continued – civil unrest and social justice movements grew. We all watched from our TVs, streaming services and social media channels as activists chanted “the whole world is watching”. And they were right, we were watching. So what we were going to do about what we saw?

The answer focused on learning and developing projects on various social justice topics, such as: the Truth and Reconciliation journey, Black Lives matter, supporting artists and small businesses, mental health in the pandemic, and community.

And, surprisingly or not, our project grew. Our project is now over 100 people strong – with teen volunteers and community partners coming together form across Halton Region. On ZOOM, Google Classroom, in group chats, at-home arts/crafts projects, and more. Tackling big topics and making time for connect during these weird, weird times.

We can credit our focus on the 5 pillars of the Developmental Relationships to our success. Between adults and young people – and between peers. When we center: expressing care, challenging growth, providing support, sharing power, expanding possibilities - when we center relationships – all the rest seems to fall in place.

To summarize what I stated at the volunteer recognition event, “At the end of the day, it's not about the numbers. It’s about the impact, the stories, your strengths. It’s about the Senior specifically requesting to play cards again with Noah because they hit it off over a game of Euchre. It’s the car rides home from a Seven Somebodies meeting. It’s Iman leading with her heart and being someone her team can depend on. It’s picking out beads from bins at the side of the road. It’s Elijah sharing his personality in virtual ways and teaching us all a thing or two about tech platforms. It’s Tanvi and Josh having deep dive chats about Natural Law and the Time is NOW series. It’s the birthday shouts outs and bracelets. It’s Charlie’s out of the box thinking. It’s the off-shoot group chats, friendships, positive comments and HEART.”

What’s Next?

2021 is off to an exciting start with new projects and ongoing campaigns. If you are interested in getting involved – let us know! Otherwise, stay tuned on to our blogs and social media accounts or subscribe to our monthly e-newsletter to follow along with our journey.

The world is a classroom. I was sure to acknowledge the land and the Indigenous people connected to it and share my knowledge with our volunteers, during a summer trip.



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