Edmonton Urban Games Youth Business Development Project
The Edmonton Urban Games was a unique project: a group of nine at-risk youths planned, promoted and staged a two-day public festival that ran September 25-26, 2010. The project was designed to reintegrate young offenders into mainstream society, a key goal of the Youth Criminal Justice Act. The two-year project also involved dozens of mentors from a wide variety of backgrounds who assisted the youths with the festival.
Key partners in the project included the Youth Criminal Defence Office, the Youth Restorative Action Project, and the Office of the Mayor of Edmonton. The Department of Justice Canada contributed funds to the project. The project’s advisory group included a Member of Parliament, a criminologist, and representatives of:
- Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada
- iHuman Youth Society
- Alberta Office of the Children’s Advocate
- Community Solutions to Gangs
- John Howard Society
- Kids in the Hall Bistro
The project was unusual because young offenders controlled virtually all aspects of the festival: the schedule of events, promotional strategies, sponsorships, logistics, and more. Little structure was imposed on the process; participants formed a Youth Business Development Team (YBDT) and recruited and partnered with mentors from the private sector to plan and stage the festival. A dedicated project coordinator met with the YBDT at least once each week.
Although the original concept focused on games, artistic expression dominated the festival schedule. Events included workshops on writing, fashion and rap music, along with skateboarding demonstrations. Festival-goers were encouraged to participate in several ways, such as painting parts of a large mural. Another popular activity was Ah-maze-ing, an interactive street maze that required festival-goers to answer questions and express opinions to make their way to the exit.
Louise Gendreau, a Qualitative Evaluator with the City of Edmonton, assessed the project. The assessment consisted of a series of conversations with participants, mentors and partners; observation of various sessions (e.g. planning, training, public consultation); participation in regular staff meetings; and monthly meetings with the project coordinator, manager and youth-mentor coordinator.
Given the unusual nature of the project, traditional data-collection strategies were inappropriate. Instead, the evaluator engaged participating youths in the process and encouraged them to record their attitudes about the project and to participate openly in evaluation feedback circles.
Participants reported enhanced confidence and a new sense of accomplishment. Many participants overcame barriers to social integration and interacted with peace officers and police in new ways. Mentors and festival-goers also spoke highly of the program. Many claimed that the festival had helped to open minds and overcome stereotypes.
The success of the project depends largely on the commitment and energy of the project coordinator. Given the lack of structure, the coordinator must strive to ensure the project progresses smoothly.
The project must find ways to better engage and involve seniors.
The Edmonton Urban Games succeeded in promoting the reintegration of nine young offenders and in engaging a larger number of mentors and citizens. The event itself showcased the strengths, abilities and passions of marginalized youths. In the words of Stephen Mandel, Mayor of Edmonton, the project “made our city a better place to live.”
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