Quest for Youth 2012 The journey begins

Seen  outside the YRDSB building before the meeting.

  Today I attended a meeting at the York Region District School Board building for the Quest for Youth initiative, as part of the planning for the November forum.

  When I first got involved, I wasn't sure exactly what it was to be honest but I think I have a much better understanding now. It is a 3 day event that acts as both an educator and a learning tool for some of the worlds educators in the quest for improved student achievement. The Quest for Youth is an educators forum wherein not only Canadians but teachers from around the world come to take part in the various workshops and educational events that are organized.

  There are underlying themes each year, such as last year a focus was on gay and lesbian students and tied to that bullying. The art work depicted for last years event, in which the performance piece included youth artists completing their artwork in a shadow-like form onstage, contained various images - from men embracing to someone hanging himself. Heavy stuff, and not the "usual" one would see everyday in a regular classroom presentation by students I'm sure. But it gives/gave a voice to kids/youth affected by these themes where it would often else-wise be no more than the white elephant in the room, and perhaps some insight for educators on how to identify and more effectively deal with this should they face it in their schools.  
This year's underlying theme will be mental health.

  The purposes of today's meeting however was two-fold. First we were to discuss one part of the event which is a workshop that's to be a real life maze of what a young person may face when accessing the social services and agencies via a scenario we will present them with.  For example we can make one group a homeless family and they have to then go access the needs they may have such as contacting a shelter, welfare, housing etc and the process that it entails. As the "Quest" event takes place at Toronto's Sheraton Hotel I believe, we talked about being able to set up locations in and around the building allowing us to run people around a little as they try to access the various available resources.

  The maze thing has been done before and I'm not convinced of it's value towards really giving someone that feeling of vulnerability and embarrassment that goes with being vulnerable or destitute, but nevertheless I'll do my best to add some elements that give some 'punch" to it.  Hmmm...but what? Perhaps have them call a real agency or shelter to get the feeling?

    A few years ago I tried to push some of the collaborative partners to do a real maze wherein we dress up a real politician and have them apply for food banks etc but to no avail - with someone citing that we shouldn't embarrass them. I don't agree, but whatever! Ha.
Luther Hansraj

  The second part of the meeting was to discuss the performance piece, which as I understand typically happens on the Wednesday of the education forum. This is where art and performance combine to present messages to the attendees en mass.  For this part, I was to meet the performance Producer/Director, Luther Hansraj, a social activist of sorts and a man with 30 years theatre background who also produced last year's well received performance. I'm a creative guy too and actually taught a theatre school class some years back for Spotlight Theatre School as well as performed/produced The Canadian Improv Showcase and have acted lead on-stage in a musical among some things, so I at least have some knowledge as well to add to the live mix, and am excited to work with an experienced stage visionary like Luther on this.

  As we relayed some York Region stories, including about a homeless family and a father and son who'd been homeless and living in the forest in winter, about a youth with mental health issues unable to leave his house but still able to design our road hockey tourney logo, and that our York Region Anti-homelessness programs actually require applicants to make $30,000 a year, he appeared stunned. Eureka! Finally someone who gets it I thought!

  I'm quite enthused about this performance part of the forum, as I feel it could become something very powerful. We've talked of having visuals via pictures and video in addition, and I already have plenty of that, but as a youth angle I'd also like to tie in the annual youth road hockey drive/event we do. Some may know we have run this 9 years now and give an award to a community leader at the same time. We charge kids nothing to play in the all day tourney, and provide hot chocolate & hot dogs for the players free too. We have always had a hard time getting any kind of sustained cooperation with the schools or Board to attract more participants (let alone the media), as we always felt that to be a natural conduit for the event to be announced or even school teams entered representing if on their on time even as this is a March break held affair. This is something we do hope to change via the performance piece through showing the good it instills to these kids.

  I was quite impressed with the  quiet yet motivated Mr. Hansraj who wants to come out into the communities as well, and I look forward to showing him firsthand some of the challenges these kids face and how through road hockey we build foundations for friendships, leadership and self esteem.

  I'll be honest, in the neighbourhood the event was first started, road hockey had become stagnant the last few years with many of the kids moving on out or growing to old to play. All it seems to have taken is another interested dad to instill more interest and suddenly this year a number of new kids are taking to it - but younger. That's okay too, because the last few years we created a mini event for the younger ones too so we welcome it!

  One day recently a little girl(see video above) showed up carrying a branch from a tree as a hockey stick. She stood among the boys who were playing road hockey, which included her older brother and others, so I approached and asked if she'd like to play. She turned shyly from me and indicated no and at that time someone informed me they spoke no English.

  Next day she again made like she wanted to play holding this branch, so I took one of the small sticks from the 'community" barrel I created, and showed her how to hold it properly and let her hit the ball telling the boys to back off for a moment. After a couple swipes she hit it and laughed with sheer glee. I was told it was the first time the mothers there had heard her laugh! As of late her mother has joined the watching of the kids on that street with the other mothers - now seemingly minus the head gear I first saw her in when her daughter excitedly ran to her hockey stick in hand and smile on face. The mom smiled too and being Muslim and from another country and unable to speak much English, I must say we accomplished quite a lot through a simple game of road hockey - not to mention introducing Canada's national past time and tradition to newcomers!

  We're looking for people who have artwork or ( background)music to be part of the performance, or to act as work station assistants- so if you can help or would like to know more about the Quest For Youth contact us!

Tom out!