Nine Canadian youth leaders recently celebrated the completion of the yearlong Pathy Foundation Fellowship (formerly OceanPath Fellowship) through a series of online presentations.

The fellowship’s “Debrief Week” traditionally takes place on campus at St. Francis Xavier University’s Coady Institute and welcomes students, staff, family, friends, and community members for closing presentations from each fellow, followed by a graduation ceremony. As the fellows and supporting staff adjust to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in their work, homes, and communities, they were swift to see opportunity in creating a participatory digital platform for the revamped week of events.

The week began with a presentation on Youth Empowerment and Climate Justice on Haida Gwaii by Julia Weder.

“I supported teen after-school groups on Haida Gwaii with the dual purpose of encouraging individual growth and empowerment in the climate justice movement,” Julia says. “Through group activities and multimedia resources, I aimed to help young people discover aspects of themselves, their perception of the world, and their capacity to create social change.”

Jessica Franko presented the Okavango Livelihoods Project – a livelihoods and conservation initiative in the Okavango Delta villages of Gunotsoga and Beetsha, Botswana.

“The most impactful achievements during the fellowship were the rebooting of the relationship-building process between project partners, and the introduction of the asset-based community-driven development approach,” Jessica says. “Using this approach has reshaped the landscape of corporate and community partnerships, and is unprecedented in Botswana.”

Salome Barker’s “Who We Are” initiative focused on revitalizing Mi’kmaq identity for both status and non-status youth in central Ktaqmkuk (Newfoundland).

“I was born and raised in Grand Falls-Windsor and have lived here all my life,” Salome explains. “This was the first project of its kind to be started here. There have been many efforts made to promote Indigenous culture, and efforts made to preserve the culture, however there has not been a project that focused solely on youth and worked consistently.”

Bulldogs Inclusive Para Hockey by Giovanni Akeson introduced us to an inclusive para (sledge) hockey program designed to give young athletes with and without disabilities the opportunity to play the sport of sledge hockey together.

“The program provides a culturally relevant inclusive sports model that breaks down sociocultural barriers and bridges the perceptual gap between individuals with and without disabilities,” Giovanni explains. “It has given people the opportunity to be hockey players, hockey parents, and a hockey family in the Antigonish community where hockey is at the heart of its identity.”

Building Social Connection and Collaborative Community-Driven Solutions to Homelessness is the theme of Stewart Langley’s initiative, which included the creation of the St. Mary’s Drop-In Centre, where people experiencing homelessness can access immediate material needs, social support, and programming in areas such as education, employment, health-promotion, and the arts.

“I was able to see the community come together and mobilize towards a large-scale, long-term, and unique project,” Stewart says.

Stewart is helping to run the drop-in centre as an essential service throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Community Participation for Students with Learning Challenges and Intellectual Disabilities by Maggie Rodrigues supported students transitioning out of high school and into meaningful employment through mentorship, skills-based workshops, and volunteer placements.

“This project created connections in our community that didn’t exist before,” Maggie says. “It focused on breaking down systemic barriers to inclusion and created change through a wholistic community approach.”

Hanan Ghazal’s initiative, Empowering Refugee and Newcomer Mothers in a Circle of Support, was inspired by her family’s own experiences.

“When my mom came to Canada she was alone with four kids,” Hanan explains. “She had to navigate everything on her own, until she met a couple of women who also recently came to Canada. The three of them and their kids started getting together consistently. This supported my mom’s emotional, physical and mental well-being.

“Having a support network is important for an individual to flourish. I wanted to recreate that type of support for mothers coming into Canada. Navigating new territory is hard enough, no one should go through it alone.”

Similarly, Lauren Di Felice’s initiative, Newcomer Civic Engagement, aimed to assist with the integration and empowerment of the newcomer community in Kingston, Ontario.

“We’ve created a space to facilitate constructive dialogue among newcomers, where we have been able to openly discuss the main barriers facing newcomers integrating into Kingston and actively engaging in the community, then come up with innovative initiatives to overcome said obstacles,” Lauren explains. “We have shifted the conversation away from venting and peer support and added in the element of community action in response to the hardships faced by newcomers.”

Closing out the week’s presentations, Nicola Brogan introduced us to Thrive: “Like a Girl – a youth initiative dedicated to providing space for youth to explore themselves through confidence building workshops.

“I have learned the importance of celebrating the small wins instead of measuring success based on large milestones,” Nicola reflects. “My most significant achievement is the development and finalization of two youth programs. I dedicated several months to researching, drafting, and editing, which ultimately resulted in two program handbooks that I’m very proud of.”

The week’s presentations were capped with a virtual graduation ceremony as Julia, Jessica, Salome, Giovanni, Stewart, Maggie, Hanan, Lauren, and Nicola join more than 7000 graduates from 122 countries as part of Coady’s graduate network.