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Supporting Youth in Toronto

Razia Jeena, Team Toronto
by Lisa Cerqueira

As her son grew into his twenties, single parent Razia Jeena discovered he felt she had not been there for him as he was growing up. “It was a lack of consistency on my part,” Razia shares. “I think he was looking for a structure and for me to act as a guide.” Having moved from her native Uganda to the Toronto area twenty-five years ago, shortly before her son was born, Razia was busy figuring out how things work herself and didn’t always know how to guide her son without the familiar structures from her own childhood. “Some of the things my son does have thrown me for a loop. What youth deal with in the Western world is foreign to many immigrant families,” she confesses. “I suggested we partner up and figure things out together and he refused. He said, ‘No. You’re the parent. You figure it out.’ I felt utterly helpless.”

Participating in the communication courses offered by Landmark Education helped her to take these conversations with her son and convert them into an inquiry. “Now I’m really clear on what I need to do as a parent and, as a mom, I want to share this with other parents,” Razia says. “It breaks my heart to see youth, who have so much to contribute, be lost and dependent on others for their livelihood when they are so brilliant, so compassionate. I want to see youth be engaged. I also want to support communication and connection between parents and their children.” To address this need, Razia created Youth ‘n’ Action within the Team Management and Leadership Program (TMLP), a one-year leadership program focused on developing participants to create teams and teamwork in any situation.

Youth ‘n’ Action is an outreach program targeting young people between the ages of 14 to 24 to engage them to take positive action in their lives that supports their family, community and what matters to them. Razia and her team enlisted Scarborough-area youth organizations such as Malvern Rouge Valley Youth Services and Ontrack Career and Employment Services to create the first Discovery Session on Oct 29, 2011.

At the Discovery Session, young people are encouraged to explore their areas of interest through activities and conversation with a variety of Subject Matter Experts. They answer questions, work together to create community projects that provide concrete experience, and share suggestions on how to turn the young person’s interests into a career. Through the Discovery Sessions, some youth choose to go back to school.  Razia’s team is in the process of partnering with local community colleges and high schools to facilitate this process.

Once a young person has gained experience, they are invited to become an expert in the field and a mentor for other youth. Razia describes her vision as an octopus with the core team at the center as the head and the eight arms are the youth intertwined with the community partnerships. Those being mentored today become the mentors of tomorrow. While her vision was so clear, it kept appearing to her as unfulfilled. When she looked more closely, she realized that “while I had created a team, I was only going through the motions of a team and not really utilizing them.” After that insight, she set the date for the event, created milestones by working backwards from that date, and had the team members pair up and take on separate tasks with each team being held accountable by the other, while doing their own work.

The result was a well-received initial event and additional partnerships with Centennial and Seneca College as well as with Rathika Sitsabaiesan, a Member of Parliament who has offered to speak at upcoming events and serve as a mentor. The team is also in conversation with the YMCA, Scouts Canada, and the City of Toronto Outreach workers.  Their next steps include providing support to the youth who attended the first Discovery Session, creating more Discovery Sessions, increasing their outreach and marketing,  and finding ways to draw parents into the mix.

“Youth ‘n’ Action is unique because we bring different youth organizations to work together towards the common goal of youth transformation, creating our leaders of tomorrow.  Our goal is to transform the lives of 3,000 youth by December 31, 2013,” Razia shares. Since completing the TMLP, Razia has been engaged in conversations surrounding the next steps. She is leading the youth transformation project and meets monthly with representatives of other organizations serving youth and their families and will begin partnering with organizations to facilitate conversations with the parents of pre-teen and teenagers beginning in September.

Out of her experiences working with young people, Razia found the courage to initiate a conversation with her own son. He agreed to go to counseling with her—and while ultimately her son chose to move out, Razia has been able to let go of her guilt. “I realized that now it is my son’s journey and he gets to choose his life — no judgments. I am confident one day we will have a relationship based on mutual respect.”

Out of her experiences and her commitment to happy, empowered families, Razia continues to be a stand for parents everywhere. “It is the guilt and unfinished business where parents and the children are left feeling disempowered.  I am taking a stand in my life for myself and for my son. I am coming from love rather than fear, and I am experiencing peace that I have not had for some years now.”