The Edmonton Urban Games targeted youth in the criminal justice system and at-risk of or involved in gang activity. The youth developed and organized games involving skateboarding, rap debates, dance and urban scavenger hunts. The process gave youth the opportunity to use their leadership skills in a positive way.
- Courtney Lohnes:
Youth Business Development Project Worker, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Edmonton & Area: The Urban Games is a project that enables youth with open case files with youth justice to explore their creativity, writing, rapping, drawing, painting, in a way that also has them thinking that they can be cultural agents and make change in their communities. The idea was that this group of youth business development team members would be hired to put on a festival.
The reason that the project was started in Edmonton specifically is Mark Charrington, who's a youth worker and youth advocate in the city, saw this group of youth on the side of the road, took them out for lunch and asked them what they thought was the best strategy for having youth stay away from gangs. And they actually conceived of what is now the Urban Games.
The Urban Games is innovative in a number of ways. The project is youth-driven. And it is quite difficult, especially, we are not just talking about asking for one youth to have input and to have a say, we are asking for a group of nine to have a collective say.
- Kelly Micetich:
Youth Business Development Project Worker, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Edmonton & Area: There is nothing about what we had done that there was a path for, so we were bushwhacking. It was, you know, like working your way though the jungle, there is no road map. At the end of it you don't even know what the final product will be because you are creating it as you go along. And looking to see what they were going to do and how they were going to do it was a big challenge.
We engaged business mentors and arts mentors and agency mentors to also support them and work with them as a big component of societal engagement.
The issue we always have in these types of projects is sustainable funding in order to continue to provide productive opportunities for change. It's like doing community service hours and somebody scraping gum off of the pavement is not going to give them a sense of value. The energy needs to be put into proactive, preventative measures to provide alternate opportunities for youth. So if we're not doing that, we are still going down the road where we believe that punishment has more value than productive change and experiential learning.
Why the project works has been engagement and support. Really making it youth-driven, seeing that, given opportunity, the youth will accept a challenge and they will challenge themselves and because they are supported, they will stay in it and they don't give up on themselves. We don't give up on them and everybody stays in it together, through the tough stuff. That proved to me that, yes it can be done, yes youth can change their lives, but it has to be their choice.
- Courtney Lohnes:
Youth Business Development Project Worker, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Edmonton & Area: It's definitely been tough. None of our kids have any new charges, but it has not been a, you know, from zero to a hundred happy days, flowers everyday.
The approach we take is that as long as any particular person is committed to making the right positive changes for themselves, even though they might take steps back, we will be there to support them through that. It's like a family.
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The Edmonton Urban Games pilot project received funding through the Youth Justice Fund Guns, Gangs and Drugs Component.
©Her Majesty the Queen in right of Canada, represented by Justice Canada, 2011.