Digital Marketing, SEO and My Life as a 20-Something

Author: Natasha Burtenshaw-deVries (Page 3 of 4)

Digital Marketing, Content and SEO Specialist. Soccer player. Sailor. Hiker. Skiier. Huge Toronto FC fan. Reader. Problem solver. Lifelong learner. 20-something just trying to navigate this crazy world.

Connect with me on Twitter @natasha_bd

Why Real Young Women Make Real Good Role Models

“Role models really matter.  It’s hard to imagine yourself as something you don’t see.” –Chelsea Clinton

The Oxford Dictionary defines a role model as ‘a person looked to by others as an example to be imitated’. Despite this seemingly clear and simple definition, it is often widely debated whom and what constitutes a ‘proper’ role model. That’s not the topic of this post, because who am I to determine whether or not someone is a good role model to another person, who has life experiences, circumstances, and dreams different than my own?

What I will highlight, is one group who I think is greatly overlooked, despite being very important role models for our young girls. This group is young women.

It’s something that’s really dawned on me in recent months, and has been probably both the most profound, as well as unexpected, revelation of my time in Québec.

Camp counsellors, student teachers, coaches, babysitters, cousins. I hope everybody can think of a few teenagers or young adults who you viewed as a God during your youth, I’m fortunate to have had many. Based on my many years of working with young people, I can conclude that young adults are a source of great mystery to children, sometimes to the point of absolute hilarity (ohhh the questions I’ve been asked!). We’re adults to them in terms of age and authority, yet in a different way than their parents, aunts, uncles, and teachers, with our lack of cars, houses, children, and matching socks. But I guess that’s what makes us so intriguing, and why they relate to us differently.

Furthermore, tweens, particularly girls, really seem to gravitate towards young women, and this is something we should not and cannot ignore.

A lot of the girls I’ve worked with over the years have helped me come to this realization, but there are a few who really stand out to me, because I think I stand out to them. I can’t talk about them here, oh I wish I could, as their beautiful smiles and courageous hearts are the reason I am writing this, and why I have promised myself to always try to be in touch with this age group somehow.

Now, the young women who (I hope) are reading this, you may be thinking ‘What can I do, I still need role models of my own, I can’t be a role model to anybody else’. I used to think this too, and sometimes still doubt myself in this regard. But trust me when I say that you are being watched and you can have an incredible impact on some younger lives. The late elementary and middle school years are a time where girls’ confidence and self-esteem often plummets, but with your help it doesn’t have to be that way, perhaps it could even be a time where it soars.

But what they need, is they need you to silence the boy who speaks over them. They need you to pass them the ball during a soccer game. They need you to ask them a second, maybe third time to attend an extra-curricular activity they weren’t quite sure about but deep down really want to attend. And most importantly, they need you to say Hi. How are you? See you next time!

You don’t need to be a celebrity to do this, you don’t even need to have a job, you only need to be you, because that’s what our girls need most. They need you to be real and present in their everyday lives, not someone who only exists to them on television screens and Instagram posts. They need to see you wearing clothes from the local mall, not expensive designer items. They need to see you walking in the rain because you don’t have a car, never mind an expensive luxury one. They need to see that your skin and hair are not always perfect (mine sure aren’t). They need to see you eating your lunch with your fingers because you forgot a fork and were too lazy to walk to the staff room (true story, maybe I shouldn’t admit to this stuff online). Believe it or not, these things are really, really important.

There’s room for role models who make mistakes. -Taylor Swift

They need you to not just be relatable in the present, but a preview of who they can be in the future. Yes, some of them could go on to be famous musicians, athletes and politicians, and we shouldn’t stop them from dreaming big. But most of them are going to end up like you. You may be either horrified or laughing at that but I mean it in a good way. Because you are real. Unlike celebrities or fictional characters, they can, and most likely will, be like you one day.

That’s not to say that all media is terrible, and I can think of many who take being a role model seriously and try to use the platforms they have in a positive way, and I sincerely applaud their efforts. Role models in media can be important; this could be a young person’s only connection to people like them. This is not something I experienced growing up but for many this is true. Yet still, at the end of the day, are they the best we can do for our girls?

So, what am I trying to say here? Ladies, you are being watched. Don’t worry, not in a ‘walk holding your keys pretending to talk to someone on the phone’ kind of way. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel, you don’t need to become a crusader for female empowerment. But a little bit of time here and there, maybe volunteering in a community or school program, or simply spending some time with a cousin or neighborhood child, all while simply being yourself, has the potential to change a girl’s world. They will admire you even more when they see that you really are being your true self and not someone that other people want or tell you to be. Don’t let this stress you out, but don’t waste this opportunity either. I don’t want to say you owe it to them, but I don’t think you’ll regret it either.

If each generation takes a little bit of time to nurture the next one, we will unleash even more of the incredible, positive power that already lies within all of us. Young ladies, you can help unleash more of this power than you may realize, and our girls are waiting for you to go and turn that key together.

Role models can inspire. Campaigns can motivate. But if we want all girls everywhere to rise up, then we must find them, befriend them and support them. –Queen Rania of Jordan
















Leadership Where We’re Not Looking

There’s a lot of things that baffle me about this crazy world we live in. And I don’t mind not understanding it all. But there’s one thing that’s been really bothering me for a while now, and it’s something we need to have a discussion about.

And that is, how many times I’ve been asked “Are you studying business?”

I laugh every time because I really don’t understand why people who know almost nothing about me jump to that conclusion. Is it because I ventured into the community beyond the campus bubble? Is it because I care about things like politics and volunteering? Because of how I dress? Because I’ve taken the time to network and attend community events? Because I’m a young, white, educated middle-class person?

Whatever it is, it reflects a wider problem in our communities and society of how we envision leadership and who should step up into those roles. We shouldn’t presume that someone doesn’t have the capability or interest to be a leader based on their field of study or career.

We should be encouraging everybody to take some sort of leadership, volunteering or other role creating some sort of a positive impact in a community/other people’s lives, because everybody is capable of doing so, although it may not be in traditionally thought of ways.

Furthermore, why do business programs seem to be the only ones that teach their students about networking, innovation and entrepreneurship? Why do politicians only visit political science classes and student government meetings? If we truly want students to receive a well-rounded education to contribute to society in meaningful and diverse ways, then we need to offer well-rounded and diverse opportunities to all. We should be encouraging our education and psychology students to volunteer on a non-profit board. And we should be encouraging our business and engineering students to go volunteer in a school. And when a politician comes to talk on campus, we need to make sure everybody is invited, because their work impacts every single person on that campus, and voices from all areas should be represented and shared with them.

Diversity of leadership needs to be about more than race, gender and other traditionally thought of indicators of diversity. We need to be mindful of diversity of education, life experience, passions, skills, and whatever other unique perspectives individuals can bring to the table. I think it’s pretty cool that our current prime minister was a teacher, and not just your standard economist/lawyer/political scientist/other old rich white dude career, and I want to see this more often. We need to see this more often.

Now I know not every so-called ‘leader’ is a business person or political science major. I’ve been learning more and more that life tends to take you down unexpected paths, and those who are meant to lead seem to eventually find their way there no matter what their initial path was. But imagine what our communities could be like if we searched for and nurtured these leaders earlier on, instead of leaving them to find their own way there?

So in the meantime, I will continue to chuckle every time I respond with “I study childhood and I work in a school.” I’ll continue to not quite fit the stereotype of what a leader should look like, and I hope that you too can push aside your preconceived notions of who a leader should be, especially young ones, and offer such opportunities to all those who seek and are suited for them, regardless of whatever life or career path they’ve set out upon.


3 Months In

Three months. Trois mois. 91 days. No matter what way I put it, no matter what language, it’s hard to believe I’ve been here for 3 months. In some ways that time has absolutely flown by, while in other ways it feels like I’ve been here forever.

Now where is ‘here’ you may be wondering?

Here/home for now is a place called Rimouski, Quebec. Back on September 1st I dragged me, myself and 97 pounds of luggage onto an airplane bound for Quebec City. A few days later I was dropped off at a house full of people who don’t speak english, and life has been flashing by ever since.


Concierge (jokingly): Geez, do you have everything you own in here?        Me: Ummm, actually I do.

Work life these days consists of being an english language monitor in a francophone elementary school. I work with roughly 400 kids from grades 1 through 6 doing activities, both in the classroom and small groups, to help the kids improve their english and learn about life and culture in English speaking Canada. Madame/Mrs/Miss Natasha (said with a cute french accent) at your service.

I often get asked why I left everything behind to come here. And what I had back home was pretty good, but at the same time I know this was a good choice. First of all, to have a meaningful job that’s decently connected to what I want to do in the future that pays enough to be financially independent? That in of itself is a blessing for a 21-year-old and a reason to move 1000 km away. But the ultimate goal of my time here is to improve my french.

And oh, is it improving. Oh yes indeed. Because when you live in a house full of french-speakers, as well as in a community of fifty thousand people where a whopping 0.7% of the population speaks english as their first language (that’s 330 people), and only 22.7% claim to be bilingual in english and french, it’s kind of inevitable. (Check out the 2011 census if you don’t believe me!


But my time here is definitely about more than a pay cheque, work experience and linguistic ability. The program is called Odyssey after all. It’s been about adventure, about connecting with nature, learning more about the country I’m proud to call my own, and not following the status quo. It’s about getting a glimpse into life as a minority, making it through the tough days when your friends and family are a thousand kilometres away, and exploring the joys and treasures a new community holds. It’s been about learning how to refill the pellet stove that heats the house, being able to rattle off the times when the tide will be in or out, and finally understanding the Quebecois accent. And of course, it’s been about copious amounts of hockey, poutine, and maple syrup.

So that’s where life has taken me for the time being. For those of you who ask, no, it won’t be forever. My wandering and adventures of the past few years have been fun and I wouldn’t change them for anything, but I’ve also figured out what I love, my priorities, and that I would really love to live in one place for more than 8 months. Because I haven’t done that since I was 17 years old and I’m ready to do that again. So come summer, I’ll be back Ontario, and trust me, the wait for me to come back will be worth it.

“Language is not a genetic gift, it is a social gift.  Learning a new language is becoming a member of the club -the community of speakers of that language.”

Frank Smith




International Day of the Girl: A Message to a Younger Me

Dear Young Natasha,

In a way, International Day of the Girl isn’t the most relevant day for you; much of the focus is around education and empowerment of girls in developing countries. You were blessed to grow up in a community and family where your basic needs were always met (as well as most of your ‘wants’ as well), you were always loved, safe, and you always had access to fantastic education. So my first message is, don’t take this for granted. But even the most blessed lives aren’t perfect, and unfortunately some of these imperfections are solely because of your gender. So listen closely little one, please listen to what I’m about to say, and ignore the messages of the old boys club and the glass ceiling that are already being sent your way.

First, and very important for you, do not hide your intelligence. I know, it’s hard, especially hard when it’s the boys who are supposed to be smart, not the girls. The reality is that your mind will never be normal, and I know that’s not easy to accept and to navigate life that way, but you have been blessed with an incredible gift, so please let it shine as brightly as possible, or at the very least don’t hold back and attempt to hide it.

The reality is, because you are a girl, you are going to have to work harder. You are going to have to work harder to be heard, to be taken seriously, to get the same opportunities as the boys. For those nice events you’re going to be invited to, you’re going to have to spend more money on clothes, figure out how to do your hair, and suffer in uncomfortable shoes just to meet society’s standards for women. It sucks, and unfortunately I don’t have a solution. Just do the hard work, jump through the hoops, and try not to burn your fingers on your curling iron. But take care of yourself, take some breaks, and don’t forget to have fun along the way.

In grade 7, you are going to write down your top 3 instrument choices for music class. I saw you erase trombone as your top choice and replace it with flute! Stop! Write it again. Don’t give in to the pressure to pick a ‘girly’ instrument when you’ve wanted to play trombone for years. And you know what? In 2 years, you’e going to have another chance to learn trombone. And you’re going to be really, really good at it, so please take that first opportunity when it comes. Yes, you’re going to be sitting at the back with all the boys, and some people will feel the need to say obnoxious things about that. But you know what? Those boys will become some great friends, music will bring you some incredible opportunities, and the low brass section is more fun than the flutes anyways.

“And will you succeed? Yes! You will, indeed! (98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.) KID, YOU'LL MOVE MOUNTAINS!" -Dr. Seuss (And one day, you will literally climb a real life mountain!)

“And will you succeed?
Yes! You will, indeed!
(98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.)
-Dr. Seuss
(And one day, you will literally climb a real life mountain!)

You are going to be told you are too impatient. You are going to be told you are being patronizing. You are going to be told you are too harsh. You are going to be told that you are a bitch. It will hurt. It will make you want to stop. But keep going. Keep going. Because you’re only doing the exact same thing as the boys, it’s just being interpreted differently because you’re a girl.

Raise your hand in class. Talk more. It’s okay that you’re not interested in makeup or Top 40 music. Don’t be afraid to let your interest in politics and sports shine through. You may be the only girl doing so, but if you persist, others will join. Run like a girl, whether it’s for office or out on the soccer field.

And those other girls I mentioned earlier, the ones who haven’t been blessed with the things you have? Never forget them. Keep up the work you’ve done to help others, and always do what you can to make the world a better place. Because if you don’t, who will?

And finally, only you can define who you are, and what you expect of yourself. All those things I just talked about? They are going to mess with your self-perception, with what you do, with what you think you’re supposed to do. Don’t listen to them. Make the most of the loving, successful, supportive people in your life, but at the end of the day make sure that you are doing what you want, not what society and others say you should.

So Tash, that’s what I have to say. Life as a girl is not always the easiest. There are traps along the way; traps of traditional gender roles, the glass ceiling, the old boys club. Traps placed by the haters, traps placed by the insecure, traps placed by those who only care about themselves. But it doesn’t have to stop you, and the lessons you learn from navigating these traps and challenges will only make you a better person. So take your crazy self into this crazy world; go play your trombone, go be bossy, and go show ’em what you’ve got.



Rethinking ReThink: Citizen Engagement Does Not Imply Youth Engagement (Part 1)

This is the first of a multi-part post looking at London, Ontario’s ReThink London community consultation process from a youth engagement perspective. It is condensed/adapted from my paper “Rethinking Rethink: A London, Ontario Case Study on Increasing Child and Youth Participation in the Development of Municipal Official Plans in Ontario” for my “Childhood Advocacy and Institutional Cultures” class. If you’d like to read the original paper, feel free to get in touch. This is months overdue, but I hope my research and thoughts on the subject can make you think about how we can better engage youth, and other under-represented populations, in citizen engagement processes of all types and purposes. This first post is primarily background information and setting the context for what’s to come.

Under the Planning Act, all municipalities in Ontario are required to have an official plan. An official plan is an important part of land use planning; it’s a vision for the future that describes a municipal council’s general goals and policies on land use and helps to guide coordinated growth and service delivery that will meet a community’s unique needs while balancing the social, economic, and environmental concerns of various residents and stakeholders.[1][2]

“The Official Plan is a powerful tool. A community is only as good as its Plan: a Plan is only as good as its ownership by the community it is designed to serve…In order for the Plan to achieve the vision that we set out and make a true difference, the community must have ownership of the Plan and participate in its implementation.”[3]

Through ReThink London, the city set out to achieve the desired ‘community ownership’ of the new official plan.

Ontario’s Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing makes recommendations for citizens to get involved in the planning process, such as learning as much as possible about the proposed official plan, attending public meetings on the matter, and letting the municipal council know about concerns.[4] These recommendations place primary responsibility on the citizen to inform themselves and speak out, and are not inviting methods for most youth. ReThink London went above and beyond what is required to reach out and include citizens in the process, leading Lura Consulting to say “The figures we have suggest that no other official planning process in Canada has had as much exposure as ReThink London.”[5] More than 9 200 residents of London shared their vision of London in 2035 at more than 63 events. In total, information about ReThink London reached over 60% of Londoners.[6]

            I’d describe the citizen as a subject in the ReThink London process, as their opinions and visions for the city’s future were actively sought out and valued by city planners. They could even be described as co-agents, based on the opportunity to provide ongoing feedback on the work planners were doing based on public input they had already received, as opposed to simply taking the public’s subjectivities and working with them on their own terms to create a draft plan. By extension, one could technically describe youth in this process as either a subject or co-agent.

However, did they really engage with residents of all ages like they claimed to? From my viewpoint, no they did not.

To create a city that will serve the needs of all its residents, it is important to talk to and engage all of its residents. I don’t have any specific facts or numbers to back up my claim(I did try), but it’s important to note that just because a process is seen as open and engaging for adults, does not mean youth see it that way too. We must actively reach out to youth to involve them and create opportunities that they consider worthwhile. You don’t talk in the same way or about the same things to a 15-year-old as you do to a 45-year-old, do you? Some topics will be the same, sure, but even then do you talk about them in the same way? So why do formal institutions continue to talk about these different topics in adult-centric ways, and wonder why youth don’t respond? More on this later. I realize it’s a challenge, given that engaging adults is typically a difficult enough process, but I also believe it’s possible. Given the overall success of ReThink London and the space I see in the process to make changes to more actively engage youth, I do believe greater levels of youth participation in the development of official plans is a very realistic goal.

The ReThink process clearly spoke to citizens, but in the future we must ensure the further inclusion of a younger demographic. How might that be done? Stay tuned!

[1] Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, “Citizens’ Guide 2: Official Plans,” (2010) 2-3

[2] City of London, “ReThink London Discussion Papers”, (May 2013) 3-4

[3] City of London, “ReThink London Discussion Papers”, (May 2013) 3-4

[4] Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, “Citizens’ Guide 2: Official Plans,” 4

[5] City of London, “ReThink London Discussion Papers”, (May 2013)

[6] City of London, “ReThink London Discussion Papers”, (May 2013)

How One Week in a Walkable City Changed My Habits Forever

Just under a year ago, I was part of a special course where we hosted a group of students from Malmo, Sweden for a week, and then went to Sweden for a week of classes there. I walked more in those two weeks (and the third week while travelling around Western Europe with a friend) than I ever have in that timeframe before, and while I would never put my feet through quite that much torture again, my positive experience there made me truly realize how much North Americans rely on cars, and even busses and other forms of public transit to get around, and since then I’ve naturally found myself walking and using other forms of active transit more than ever.

A street in Sweden. Note the sign marking how bikes and pedestrians share the sidewalk.

A street in Sweden. Note the sign marking how bikes and pedestrians share the sidewalk.

While the Swedes were here in London, they weren’t afraid of the 20 minute walk to the grocery store, and they weren’t afraid to walk back even while carrying food. They also weren’t afraid to walk to and from Mongolian Grill from King’s, and quite enjoyed talking the longer route along the river on our way to dinner that night. Part of those choices were so we didn’t have to find bus fare/tickets for everybody or so that we didn’t have to wait for the bus, but it was primarily because walking that distance was quite normal for them. I’ve certainly walked those routes myself before, but ever since they came, with the exception of when the weather is bad I find myself automatically walking (or biking) those routes instead of taking a short bus ride.

But it was when I was in Malmo that things really changed. We were a bit skeptical when they said we wouldn’t need to take the bus that week. But we soon realized that walking (or biking, which we did a bit of) really was the best way to get around there, and it being free sure didn’t hurt either!

I forget the name of the square, but we had a lovely dinner there on one of our final nights. Note the patios, the lack of cars, the space to gather, and of course all the bike parking!

We had a lovely dinner here on one of our final nights. Note the patios, the lack of cars, the space to gather, and of course all the bike parking!

Staying in the city centre certainly made it easier to walk everywhere, and fortunately the school was only a 20 minute walk away. But it wasn’t just the distance that made us rely on our own two feet to get around, it was that it was so enjoyable! Gorgeous European architecture aside, they take placemaking seriously there, the streets weren’t filled with cars and thus felt immensely safer, and those things combined made walking an enjoyable experience, as opposed to the stressful and downright dangerous scenario that is often reality in North American cities. Pedestrians truly have the right of way there, which is facilitated by not only a different attitude towards those on foot and bike, but by more pedestrian and bike friendly street design that still allows for efficient travel for cars. (If you want to learn more about my experiences biking in Malmo, check out this old post.)

What else made it so nice? What about the market that appeared in a park one afternoon on our walk back from class? Or the food stands around the river? The way finding signs? The sidewalks and paths wide enough for bikes and pedestrians, with signs and/or lines dictating how they should be shared? The many streets and public squares that were closed to cars? Or how about the many patios for restaurants and cafes? I couldn’t pinpoint one thing, but all of these different elements came together to make it not only unnecessary to step foot inside a car or bus while there, but so pleasant to be on foot that I didn’t even want to.

Kind of hard to see the pedestrian areas from this photo, but even at busy Triangeln, there's space for everybody, including the evil, evil car.

Kind of hard to see the pedestrian areas from this photo, but even at busy Triangeln, there’s space for everybody.

Coming back to Canada was a bit of a shock, but I continue to walk more than I ever have. It’s free, it’s more efficient than most realize, it’s wonderful to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine (even when masked a bit by car fumes and smog), it’s quiet time for myself built into my day (sometimes the only chance I get for that) and if I keep it up then maybe others will join me and we’ll continue to tip the scales more towards the roads being a truly shared space instead of a place for cars with the edge bits grudgingly given to pedestrians.

So the moral of the story? We need to reimagine and redesign our streets so that there is a space for everyone-pedestrians, bikes, public transit, and yes, cars too. We can’t force people out of their cars if it’s not a safe or nice environment for them. We need to bring life back to the streets and to the public by eating our meals there, by sharing artwork and music in our streets and parks, by creating pedestrian only areas, by making public squares where people can gather, and by making our streets a not only safe but enjoyable place to move and to be.

Building Citizens In The Childminding Room

Last week I attended a Shift presentation at city hall, hosted in partnership with Women In Politics, to learn more about London’s rapid transit plans and to talk about the experiences of women using public transit. Women in Politics, a wonderful group working hard to get more women involved in politics, offered free childminding for participants. I’m not quite sure what went on in that room, but the screams led me to believe they were having a pretty good time!

I really applaud Women in Politics for offering this because childcare can be a huge barrier to women’s participation in political and public events. Now, obviously this isn’t something that is of use to me right now (and won’t be for many years before anybody gets any crazy ideas) but I know it was much appreciated by other attendees, and it also made me think about my own childhood. I know from my experiences as a kid that tagging along to these events can have an impact, and can help build the engaged citizens that our city and our world desperately need.

I don’t come from an overly political family and never attended political events as a child, but political conversations were never off-limits at the dinner table, I remember going to vote with my mom on a couple different occasions, and there never failed to be an orange sign on the lawn come federal and provincial election time! I’m also pretty sure I started reading the paper daily when I was about 8 years old, I got upset when my Grandma beat me to it in the morning.

So I wasn’t a child of politics, but I was however a convention kid. My dad has always been involved in his union, including many years as its president. And what did that mean for me? Many trips to OPSEU’s annual convention.

My friends thought it sounded boring, but what they didn’t realize is that it was one of my favourite times of the year. I mean, what kid doesn’t love skipping school for a few days to stay in the Sheraton in downtown Toronto, eating McDonalds for breakfast before spending the day (and sometimes evenings) in the childcare program offered, which included daily swimming, amazing food, special guests, walks around the city, lots of crafts, and hanging around with friends all day, many of whom had also been going there for years? Oh, and did I mention that this was free? Kudos to OPSEU to providing this, as well as subsidies for food etc. so that having a family was not a barrier to the attendance and participation of delegates from all over the province.

I haven’t really realized the impact until recently. It’s kind of hard to put it into words, but I’m glad it was part of my world as a kid. Through questions here and there I learned what a union does, the impact it can have, and how they work. I remember the excitement during an election year, when they elected the current president (heck I even remember hanging out with his kids). The last year I went they started to incorporate a more educational aspect for the oldest age group. We got to go down to the convention floor a few times, which was pretty much the coolest thing ever! I’m fortunate to have been brought up with exposure to events like these; it normalized unions and these sort of events, and it definitely shaped the understanding, awareness and support for them that I have today. I saw that it was important to my dad, which meant that it was important to me, even if I didn’t entirely understand why. While my ‘participation’ took place from the childminding room (or the hotel pool, ha), I was never shielded from what happened and developed an understanding and appreciation for them in my own little way.  For kids who grow up with exposure to politics, or even through other aspects of public life like volunteering, or their parents work (my experience with THAT is another post in the works!), I’m sure the experience is similar.

Too often we shield children from public, political and civic life, and I believe this does them more harm than good. We force children into spaces created by adults for children for the first 17 years and 364 days of their life, but as soon as they hit their 18th birthday we are absolutely baffled as to why many don’t know what’s going in the world, why they don’t engage in politics in more traditional or visible ways, and why they don’t vote? And then we go on to accuse them of being lazy, entitled, apathetic etc. While I believe that every child is a citizen in their own way, citizenship isn’t something that comes on your 18th birthday, but I also know that being an engaged citizen is a process. It’s a journey I’m still on myself, I’m guessing it’s one that never ends, and it’s one that needs to begin well before children are old enough to vote.

Now, of course not every child gets these opportunities. Not every child has a politically/civically/union involved parent, and there are still so many barriers existing for adults, let alone having them bring their kids along. I don’t have the answers for those issues right now, at least not in this post. But for those of you who can give your kids these opportunities? Please do. Don’t shield your kids from them. They don’t have to canvas with you or be on the picket lines (although we do have a beloved picture from the newspaper with my sister sitting on my dad’s shoulders while picketing!), but they should know what you’re doing. Send them to the childminding if its available. Let them ask questions, share a bit about your day, encourage them to learn more. If they don’t show interest, don’t push it. But if they do? Fan that spark! Not everybody has to or is meant to be a politician or community leader, but let’s do what we can to make political and civic life a true family affair for all, both now and in the future, and I truly believe that bringing your kids along is one way we can work towards this.

On Being One Of The Youngest In The Room: London’s State of the City Address

My first thought as I came up the escalator and joined the long line of people filing into the room was, gosh it’s too early to be alive.

My second thought? I don’t belong here.

“Impostor syndrome can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist even in face of information that indicates that the opposite is true.” This is something I have been struggling with a lot lately. But as I made my way through that oh so delicious breakfast, I stopped all those negative thoughts. Why? Because I earned my way to that room just like everybody else that was there.

I bring money to this city, and I can tell you it’s a hell of a lot more than just ‘beer and pizza’.

Those 5 314 first year students Western welcomed this year? As a proud member of our very talented and dedicated residence staff teams, I’ve played an important role in welcoming and supporting many of them during their first year at this school and in this city.

I am a proud alumni of the United Way Young Leaders program, which really kickstarted my journey into venturing beyond the bubble and getting involved in the community in whatever capacity my busy on-campus/work schedule allows me to. Which isn’t as much as I would like, but I do what I can. I am proud to serve on the board of one of our wonderful non-profit organizations, and try to support other causes or events when time/budget allows.

I’m going to stop before I sound more pompous than I already do, but I recently had a great talk with someone who said it’s important to “know your worth”. That’s what helped me turn around those doubts this morning, and I internally smacked myself and said “damn right you deserve to be here and you enjoy every second of it!”. The only problem is that so many other young people doing amazing things weren’t there, and that’s what needs to change.

Maybe it’s just my introspective self, but it’s important to get youth involved in events like this because I really believe they can have an impact. I can think of 3 events in recent years that I was fortunate to attend as a young person that definitely inspired me to start taking an interest in politics and the world beyond my current spheres.

The first was attending the City of Hamilton’s inaugural meeting back in 2010, hosted at the Hamilton Convention centre. As a member of the Hamilton All Star Jazz Band, whom the former mayor was a supporter of, we played a few pieces during the ceremony. We just won’t talk about how they zoomed in on me during an extremely difficult and technical passage that is brutal for trombone players, and that all my lovely facial expressions were broadcast on live tv. The second and third events were last year’s State of the City Address, as well as Emerging Leaders’ London X.

What these events left me with was a sense of politics and city building, and simply the world beyond the spaces we have created for and restricted children and youth to, being accessible for the first time. And beyond being simply accessible, I started to believe that I could even be a part of the solutions and journey towards the future. The majority of people in those rooms (well, maybe not London X but definitely the other two) were middle aged white men, but I know and have hope that it won’t stay that way for much longer. My age and my blonde hair may make me feel a bit out of place, but I’ve learned to embrace it and be proud of fighting the norm!

Don’t underestimate the power of one event. I encourage those who are able to to invite or do what you can to make events and spaces like these accessible for young people. Don’t just bring your board or management, why not invite that recent grad who you just hired for an entry level position? Are your kids old enough to attend? Bring ’em! Have an extra spot at your table? Invite a young leader in the community. Events like this can be tricky because there’s a perception that it’s not for us, as well as the cost involved, so I encourage you to do what you can to eliminate these barriers.

If we want this city to move forward, we need everybody’s help. I left with a sense of enthusiasm and positivity about this city, and I think it’s safe to say everybody else felt the same. Let’s make sure that young people get to experience an event like this and feel the same buzz and enthusiasm I felt in the room this morning, which will help encourage them to consider London for their future and to use their skills, talents and passions to play a crucial role in helping this city become the great place I know it can be.

Orchestra London: Saving vs. Enabling

As a former band kid and a person who’s life to date has been strongly influenced by music, what’s happening with Orchestra London is heartbreaking. Participating in community jazz bands and orchestras turned me into who I am today because of the friends I made, the places I traveled to, the events I participated in, and the opportunity to work with others to create something bigger than ourselves. I have performed for school children, elderly citizens in nursing homes, in small towns in France, at community fundraising events, as part of the only Canadian group that year at the prestigious Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland, and on live national television in the presence of many dignitaries at a state funeral. I have seen many of the world’s top musicians perform in a number of different cities and countries, and on some occasions even had the chance to meet and/or work with some of them. But I’ve also had wonderful nights out at local venues with friends, and most importantly I remember the awe of being a young child and seeing a musical or theatrical performance, and wanting to be like the people on stage. Music, and cultural institutions in general, are important to communities in so many different ways, especially in ways that can and never will have a dollar value.

I’ve been drowning in end of semester papers lately so I haven’t read every single fact about what’s going on with Orchestra London but what I do know is that we have a tough choice to make. My heart says ‘save the orchestra whatever it takes’ but my mind says ‘we need to make an informed decision’. What that decision is? I’m not quite sure yet, and I think we need more information, particularly solid financial information, before the decision making process can begin. We deserve nice things, but more importantly we deserve accountable, responsible community leaders who make good decisions, whatever the outcome may be.

One thing that we have to keep in mind though is the difference between ‘saving’ the orchestra and simply enabling the troubles to go on for a bit longer. If we are truly going to save them then we need to do it properly; probably an overhaul of leadership, a solid and realistic plan moving forward, and a strong commitment from the community to put our money where our mouths are and support them. I have always wanted to but have never actually been to an Orchestra London performance, but I am publicly declaring that I will go to one within the next few months if that is still an option. Your commitment could be in the form of more significant financial support if that’s possible, volunteering your time, or simply buying a ticket to a performance. No matter what your contribution may be, if this organization is important that everybody claims them to be, you need to prove it. But most importantly, this commitment and support needs to be a real, viable one that will allow them to enhance our community for years to come, instead of just prolonging the need to face the real problems a little bit longer.

I am no financial expert and my journey into learning about the workings of the non-profit sector is still in its early days, but I am of the belief that not every non-profit organization can or should be entirely self-sustainable. However, there is a huge difference between being supported by grants, subsidies etc. and surviving on hope and bail outs, and from what I know it seems that Orchestra London has fallen into the second category.

I am well aware of how hard it is to fill a concert hall. I know how frustrating it can be when many remain ignorant of fantastic and long standing community cultural groups despite their best efforts and the support of many others. But I also know the feeling, from both the audience and the stage, of what music can bring to an individual and a community.  We can’t rely on our hearts to make this decision, realistic and smart financial considerations are crucial moving forward, but I encourage Londoners to come up with a solution that finds the best possible balance between finances, culture and community.

Age-Friendly Cities…Perhaps Not The Best Name?

This post is kind of a pre-cursor to some stuff I will be posting in the next week or two related to a paper I have been writing for my advocacy in institutional contexts class, relating to youth participation in ReThink London and urban planning in general. You know, once I finish the silly thing. I’ve really become interested in this stuff lately, particularly where the youth perspective comes in, and while it can be difficult to share non-mainstream perspectives on youth participation because it is typically met with so much resistance, it’s important to share this and I’ve come to enjoy writing a bit about this stuff, and it’s good practice for what I hope will come career-wise in the hopefully not far off future.

“Age-Friendly Cities” is an initiative that is spreading, and in fact our very own London, Ontario was the first Canadian city to join the World Health Organization’s Global Network of Age Friendly Cities, which is targeted towards making cities more accessible and inclusive for older adults. It’s not the initiative I have issues with-cities often struggle to be friendly and accessible for people in general, let alone those who may have mobility issues, isolation etc. My issue is that I believe a so-called “age-friendly city” should focus on making cities that are friendly and accessible for people of all ages, with a focus on those who are outside of the groups and demographics that planners and politicians typically think of and cater to. If we’re going to focus only on older adults, then perhaps the more inclusive term of “age-friendly” should not be used.

While initiatives targeted to one group will typically have many benefits to others or to all, as a young millennial with a particular interest in youth participation and youth policy, I fear for my generation as the baby boomers age and more focus and resources are directed towards them. In relation to the age-friendly cities initiative, I encourage London, and urban areas in general, to of course ensure that the needs of older citizens are being met, while not forgetting about other groups who also have their own unique needs.

While I was proudly born and raised in a city and am the “city girl” amongst my friends who primarily grew up in small to mid-sized towns in southwestern Ontario, and am a true believer in urban life and the opportunities they provide particularly for youth, the reality is that cities are not always the most friendly places for youth. Social issues aside, they are not designed with youth in mind and this has many impacts on their independent mobility, their participation in the community, and in the overall way they live their lives.

I’m not going to quote the research in this article, I still need to do that in my paper that I have yet to finish (and I may rip out my eyeballs if I have to do one more footnote), but trust me that there is so much research out there showing how planners and politicians just don’t know how to meaningfully incorporate youth’s perspectives and how to work with them, as well as work in the field of children’s geographies showing how they navigate space differently, how they view their neighbourhoods differently than adults do, and how existing physical geography and planning plays a part in limiting their increasingly restricted independent mobility. I will be sharing more insights and suggestions on how we can better go about this soon, but in the meantime I encourage those in positions of influence to do their best to reach out and understand the youth perspective and their needs, and explore ways of facilitating meaningful participation of youth so that we can make sure that they feel safe and included in our community.

Once again, the importance of age-friendly cities for older and aging adults is an issue that is without a doubt of great importance. However, as we shift greater focus and resources towards the needs of our older citizens, please don’t forget about the others. While youth is my own focus and area of interest, we also cannot forget about the differing needs and experiences of women, people with differing physical abilities, people living in poverty etc. Yes initiatives benefitting one group will often have benefits for many others, but we cannot always make that assumption and we cannot ignore or leave out the unique needs that other groups have. We may not have the same financial resources or political clout, but we still deserve the same consideration and accommodation as anybody of any age. As London moves forward with it’s ambitious London Plan, let’s make sure that we are all onboard for the exciting ride, and that we continue to broaden our understandings of different lived experiences and the needs of various populations.

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