Future North on the Road: Lessons Learned

Jan 11, 2022 | Community Partners, HOT OFF THE PRESS, ON THE ROAD, Youth Partners

Future North — A Network for Youth was officially launched on social media (Instagram and Facebook) at the end of Summer 2021. This launch was preceded by a year of engagements, planning, iterating, and replanning with youth in the district of Sudbury-Manitoulin, to design a network that would truly be “by youth, for youth.” To celebrate and promote this new network, as well as the www.futurenorth.ca website, the team was looking to innovate and “try something different” to reach youth across the district. Following many meetings and conversations about what this launch would “look like” it was determined that a one-hour event was not enough, and the “On the Road” three-day district-wide road trip was the prescribed solution. 

Future North “On the Road” stemmed from the desire to break away from the virtual world for a few short days; the team really wanted to connect with youth and youth-serving agencies face to face. We knew that an in-person event was not accessible for everyone, especially considering how large the district is and how inaccessible transportation is for most rural communities. Instead of asking youth and community partners to come to us, we decided to see what happened if we drove to them. 

Check out the notes from Community Engagement Coordinator, Keanna Duguay, and Program Manager, Nicole Minialoff to discover learnings and insights from the Road Trip and how the team plans to carry this idea forward in 2022–2023!

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Day one. Our plan for the first day of our adventure was to travel to Manitoulin Island (from New Sudbury) and stop in every community along the way. This included Copper Cliff, Lively, Naughton, Atikameksheng Anishnawbek First Nation, Centennial Park, Nairn Centre, Espanola, Whitefish River First Nation, and Little Current. Ambitiously, we also thought we would make it out to visit M’chigeeng First Nation and Wikwemikong First Nation — but you will soon see what happened to those plans!

The District of Sudbury and Manitoulin is beautiful. We did some sightseeing along the way. We took pictures and looked like tourists and got a brief glimpse of each community while passing through. We stopped at locations such as malls, service providers, and businesses. One-stop was at the Espanola Mall. While browsing the shopping center, we engaged with five youth and one local business. This allowed us the opportunity to showcase our Social Media platforms, to give away free Future North merch, and to chat a bit more with youth about what their experience is like growing up in the district. Two of the youth we talked with were from the Netherlands, two from Oshawa, and only one from the town of Massey. 

On the way to Manitoulin Island, we spontaneously stopped at Whitefish River First Nation and gained four new contacts. Despite not having a scheduled appointment, we were greeted with a smile and kindness, and they welcomed us to share information about Future North’s initiative. From there we continued our road trip towards the Town of Northeastern Manitoulin and the Islands – first stop – Little Current. In Little Current, we explored the local shops, gained two more contacts at the township office, engaged with local youth, and enjoyed lunch at The Anchor. The sky started looking a little dark and we got rained out while taking a video of one of the murals in Little Current (that can be watched here). We did not make it too far beyond Little Current when we could no longer see the road from an intense thunderstorm that hit. We reluctantly decided to turn around and head home for the day and reflected on how dangerous this highway could be travelling in storms and in the winter months. We also chuckled when thinking it had taken us all day to just get to Little Current and how did we think we were going to circle the whole island in one day?

Friday, October 15, 2021

Day 2. We started our day with the bubbliest Executive Director in town: Rob Dimeglio at Independent Living Sudbury-Manitoulin. (Go for a visit and meet Rob yourself, he loves visitors.) We got to check out the Future North x Independent Living Technology Hub and heard from Technology Trainer, Kevin Yu about how they have been supporting seniors, youth, and people of all ages to access technology and assistive devices through their center. Check out our Instagram to watch Rob’s interview and highlights about their newly launched Merchmart accessibility store as well as Rob’s kind words to all youth in the community. 

Next up on our itinerary was a community visit at another community partner; the YMCA of Northeastern Ontario. Kary McConnell and Chancy Trottier provided us the opportunity to give a brief presentation to five youths who were graduating from their programs through the Employment Services program. We quickly learned through this presentation that we needed to adapt our style when interacting with different youth and work to flip the service provider-youth paradigm by finding ways to connect with youth as young people ourselves. We passed around tablets and received some great feedback on our survey, and we heard from youth about their perspective of the type of “network” they need. One youth mentioned that he just wanted a space to get together with other youth and play pickup sports but that there was not something easily accessible in the city for a newcomer to access. In fact, he had no idea where to reach out to find these programs. Stay tuned to find out more in the coming months about how we plan to bring this insight to life! Also, check out our interview with Kary McConnell on Instagram.

Before heading towards our next stop, we wanted to support another local business for lunch; The Laughing Buddha. After enjoying our delicious meals and great service, we began travelling towards Levack. We stopped in the communities along the way: Chelmsford, Rayside-Balfour, Azilda, Dowling, and Onaping Falls. After passing through most of the small communities and seeing that the service providers we had intended to stop in to see were closed and that some communities just did not appear to have any services or activities whatsoever, we were getting hungry for a conversation with someone … anyone. 

When we arrived in Levack, we drove around the town looking for a place to stop in. From the few places that were open, there did not seem to be much foot traffic. We decided to park in what appeared to be “the downtown” and noticed the old municipal building had a light on. At this point, we went back and forth amongst ourselves as to whether we should try to knock on the door and see if someone was there. “Who would be in there?” “Do you see a light?” “I don’t see anything.” Finally, we approached the door and found it to be unlocked. We walked in and saw a young man in construction boots sitting at a desk. He turned around and Nicole immediately blurted out, “who are you?” He started laughing and said, “well, you are in my office. So, I think I should ask, ‘who are you?’” We all laughed and Nicole explained what we were doing and that’s when we got our second on-the-spot meeting to talk about Future North.

It turns out the Municipal office had been rented by Buteau Core Drilling and that the young man we were talking to was the operations manager there. We walked him through the plan on a page, the Youth Engagement Toolkit, and the vision for the future of youth in the district. He shared with us that he used to be a part of the Young Professionals Association (YPA) and that would be a great place to connect to add to our network. We chatted for about 30 minutes and thanked each other for the information shared. We added that we would pass along a few contacts of youth we had worked with through the Miskwaawaak Project) for labor positions he was seeking to fill. 

We finished our day in Levack with a sense of wonder about how sometimes the most unexpected contacts can be the best and also about just how little there was to do for the youth in Levack and the surrounding area.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Day 3. We started our morning at Science North interviewing our youth intern Kerry Yang. Kerry is also a Blue Coat at Science North. Turns out Kerry is also a networking superstar and was able to set us up with a free space to host our Youth Expert Panel meetings at Science North! Thanks, Science North!

On the final day of the Road Trip, we were – to be honest – feeling a bit down and out! While we had taken in a lot of beauty and cool places across the district, we had also recognized just how massive and spread out the communities are and how the rurality and lack of transportation access as well as minimal service supports can really contribute to a sense of isolation and disconnection. Compacted with the existing challenges of the district are the effects of the Covid-19 Pandemic which have caused most businesses, services, and programs to move to a virtual platform. This was so blunt and overwhelming when we were travelling through the districts that it was actually shocking. Time after time we encountered service providers and businesses that had the doors closed and 8 × 10 info sheets taped precariously across their windows notifying the public of states of emergencies and temporarily inactive services. Numbers to call or websites to visit for more information and parking lot after parking lot empty with dark buildings and a bit of an eerie presence. We were feeling heavy. We were feeling for the youth in our communities who have been the ones to encounter these closed doors when they needed them most. 

A note to the youth that has met those closed doors:

You finally get a ride into town because you don’t have Internet access or a cellphone and you are looking for a job, or you need to talk to a mental health professional or a doctor. When you arrive, the door is closed and there is a notice that doesn’t give you any indication of when things are going to feel a little normal again; we feel you. You’ve spent your whole day online for school and then all evening online chatting with your friends and you’re feeling like you haven’t left your little 10 × 10 worlds; we see you. You’re living in a place where you don’t feel safe or you don’t have what you need and have no other option of where to go; we want to be here for you. 

Sunday, October 17th, 2021

On our final day of the road trip, as we set ourselves up in the conference room at Science North, feeling the weight of everything we saw in the past few days… Youth from our Youth Expert Panel started slowly filtering into the room, we felt our spirits rising and our enthusiasm returning. Saturday, October 17th was our first ever in-person Youth Expert Panel meeting and seven youth showed up physically, spiritually and emotionally, for over two hours. 

We were kind of giddy—I will be honest. We handed out free Future North merch, as well as a book (of their choice) written by a Canadian Indigenous Author that was purchased on the week of National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. We gave out our Youth Engagement Toolkit and lanyards, hoodies, and t-shirts. We talked. We listened. The Expert Panel shared their thoughts and insights about being young people in the community as well as young working professionals in the community. Youth Project Co-Leads Aminat Lawal and Kerry Yang shared some early findings from their research with the project: Culture of the North: BIPOC Youth Taking Action. Then we had some fun! Check out our Instagram for pictures taken by the Youth Expert Panel during our first in-person meeting and some quick interviews we did to talk about their experiences. 

To end our meeting, we enjoyed a delicious pizza lunch from the local restaurant diGusto in Sudbury and browsed the booths at the Sudbury Market (which is now being hosted on Saturday mornings at Science North). Given that we received so much positive feedback from the Expert Panel members, all of our upcoming meetings will continue to be in-person whenever possible. And to make it even better, Science North generously offered to donate a space for us to use every month!

The Takeaways 

Future North is committed to working side by side with young people in the community, understanding their experiences, and working to influence change, so together we can improve available resources and create opportunities in our community. And our road trip was the perfect opportunity to tackle our commitment head-on. Before our three days “On the Road,” we held focus groups and engaged in many powerful conversations with youth in the community. We did this for nearly a year, completely virtually. The feedback that we received has been consistent; many youths in the District of Sudbury and Manitoulin face barriers to education and employment due to transportation, racism, financial disparity, mental health challenges, lack of work experience, and lack of accessible resources or knowledge of “what’s out there.”

If you’re out there reading this as a caregiver, a service provider, or a community member who cares – this is our message to you. There. Is. A lot. Of. Work. To. Do. AND the dynamic young people in our communities want to be a part of that work. Bring them in. Listen to their ideas. Give them resources to make their ideas happen. Recognize what they are going through and that as a non-youth, you can’t totally understand it. These times are different. Things have changed. The world is a bit scary right now! But youth are ready and willing to take on the challenges within their communities and create a better future. So let them in! Check out our Youth Engagement Toolkit for more information on how you can implement youth engagement within your work. 

Future North “On the Road” in 2022

To the Youth in the District of Sudbury and Manitoulin; we see you, we hear you. Future North is striving to become a hub in our community where youth can actively work towards addressing the barriers that they see and experience every single day. This work simply cannot happen without youth at the table. But we need to really consider how they can get to that table or do we have a responsibility to bring that table to them. We are committed to working side by side with young people in the community, and we are committed to working alongside our community partners to work towards change. 

Starting in April 2022, we will be launching a 3-month district-wide road trip, where we will partner with community agencies, educators, youth services, youth, and caregivers to come out to the spaces where youth live, work, and play. Youth in rural communities deserve the opportunity to engage with supports that align with their future goals. Taking an equitable stance on providing these services means we need to do a bit more legwork to get out to them and make sure that where they live is not a barrier to their future. If you would like Future North to come for a visit to your school, community, First Nation, skatepark, etc. send us a message! We will come out there with our gear and host a pop-up event, give out merch and free snacks and talk about change-making in your community. Please email coordinator@futurenorth.ca, message us on Instagram or Facebook, or email us through the Future North website.

Until next time – take care out there!