#YouthBreakingBarriers goes global

United Way’s agency partner Youth Agencies Alliance (YAA) art show begins a global social media campaign to spread youth vision for a better world.

Youth gathered at Graffiti Gallery for the #YouthBreakingBarriers opening on Tuesday.

Youth gathered at Graffiti Gallery for the #YouthBreakingBarriers opening on Tuesday.

Malissa’s vision for a brighter future includes better mental health support for youth, and a ‘#StopSuicide’ hashtag is her way of sharing that hope.

“Because depression and stuff comes when you’re my age,” the 11-year-old said, adding that school bullying is an ongoing problem in her life.

Malissa was one of dozens of youth taking part in YAA’s #YouthBreakingBarriers art show – a youth-led initiative with a social media goal of engaging youth across the planet to share their wisdom and insight. The free show opened at Graffiti Gallery on Tuesday and runs until Friday, August 26.

Malissa, 11, added #StopSuicide to a #YouthBreakingBarriers hashtag sculpture, saying that depression can start in youth as young as her.

Malissa, 11, added #StopSuicide to a #YouthBreakingBarriers hashtag sculpture, saying that depression can start in youth as young as her.

Young people from YAA’s membership of 18 after-school and community youth agencies helped create about 150 hashtag cut-outs adorning the gallery’s walls. The art represents their vision for breaking barriers that contribute to negative outcomes in the world and for potential solutions.

Hashtags include #Listen2Youth, #SafeDrinkingWater, #CyberBullying, #StopRacism, #GetEducated, #DontRuinNature, and #StopInfluencingKidsToBecomeGangMembers.


Over the next few days many of the artworks, which coin their own hashtags representing the issues they focus on, will be shared on Twitter at @y_b_barriers and Instagram at youthbreakingbarriers using the #YouthBreakingBarriers hashtag.

The young artist assigned #Bullying #PhysicalAppearance and #StandUpForYourFriends hashtags to this piece.

A young artist assigned #Bullying #PhysicalAppearance and #StandUpForYourFriends hashtags to this piece.

YAA hopes the #YouthBreakingBarriers hashtag goes viral so policy-makers are exposed to the vision and solutions offered by youth.

“We want youth to join the conversation with one another,” said Jen Coverini, program coordinator at YAA.



“But we also want a wider audience to see youth have valuable insight, and worthwhile input to give us to solve social issues.”

At the show opening Tuesday Jen told dozens of youth “we believe in you guys.”

Artists from Art City, Graffiti Art Programming, and the North End Arts Centre helped guide the youth to represent their barriers and solutions.

Two giant hashtag sculptures have also been covered with hashtag messages by youth. After the art show ends on Friday they will hit the road, Jen said, showing up at public spaces throughout Winnipeg over the next couple of months.

Two hashtag sculptures with hashtag messages by youth will be displayed around Winnipeg for the next couple of months.

Two hashtag sculptures with hashtag messages by youth will be displayed around Winnipeg for the next couple of months.

Jen said the campaign will be “ongoing and indefinite,” and has the potential to be much more than a social media hashtag.

“I believe if you address youth issues many adult issues will be taken care of.”

YAA has information on their website – www.youthagenciesalliance.com – for other agencies and groups that want to get involved or start their own #YouthBreakingBarriers initiative. They have also reached out to organizations in other cities inviting them to join in.

The show is open Wednesday and Thursday, 9:30 a.m. until 9 p.m., and Friday 9:30 a.m. until 5 p.m.

#Homelessness #YouCanBeTheChange

#Homelessness #YouCanBeTheChange

#CulturalAppropriation #CultureNotCostume

#CulturalAppropriation #CultureNotCostume






Investing in youth-advocacy groups

YAA youth council opens door for 36 youth from 18 agencies to inspire change, break down ‘barriers and stereotypes.’

By Jessica Botelho-Urbanski for the Winnipeg Free Press. 

For 20 years, the Youth Agencies Alliance (YAA) has advocated on behalf of children and teens. Now they’re letting the youth speak for themselves.

Earlier in October, a new youth council was established at YAA, boasting two recruits from each of the alliance’s 18 member organizations. Thirty-six teens aged 14 to 18 will meet four times per year to discuss how they can improve their communities.

Since their representative organizations span several neighbourhoods, YAA director Karen Ferris hopes the council will forge friendships across the city.

“Because we’re bringing kids from different agencies together, that will hopefully foster some relationship-building as well, and ideally break down some neighbourhood barriers and stereotypes,” Ferris said.

Dakota Woitowicz (left) a Youth Council member with the Youth Alliance Agency poses with Karen Ferris, YAA Director. PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Dakota Woitowicz (left) a Youth Council member with the Youth Alliance Agency poses with Karen Ferris, YAA Director. PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Dakota Woitowicz, 18, attended the first YAA youth-council meeting in October.

She represents the Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre, which also has a youth council that has organized North End neighbourhood cleanups and community dinners, among other activities.

Volunteering at Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata helped Woitowicz land a part-time job at a nearby drop-in centre. It’s work she finds rewarding.

“Especially when the little kids start seeing (the work the youth council does) and they’re like, ‘Oh, we’re going to copy them.’ It’s great,” she said.

Discussions at the first YAA youth-council meeting mainly revolved around setting goals to stop homelessness and to raise awareness about the LGBT community, Woitowicz said.

“We talked about what we want to see in Winnipeg that the youth can do and what Winnipeg can offer us as we offer them (help),” she said.

United Way Winnipeg provides core funding to keep YAA and its new council afloat, including annual allocations for camp programming and summer art shows.

The charity invests in 36 youth-related agencies in the city and serves more than 75,000 young people.

YAA also helps tens of thousands of youth and could help even more, Ferris said.

“Our goal is to strengthen and enhance the capacity of (youth) agencies… part of fulfilling our mandate is to make sure that we’re listening to youth and making sure that we’re meeting their needs however we can,” she said. “So having a direct outlet for that now (with the youth council) will hopefully make that process a lot smoother and allow for a lot more direct interaction with the youth.”

Woitowicz said she’s excited to make new friends at the YAA youth council and keep busy doing fulfilling work.

Without youth councils like Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata’s and YAA’s, she’s not sure what she’d be up to in her free time.

“I honestly wouldn’t know. They gave me so many opportunities already. There are so many people I’ve met. It’s amazing,” Woitowicz said.

If you would like to help, donate to United Way Winnipeg online at unitedwaywinnipeg.ca/help or by calling 204-477-UWAY (8929).


Youth Agencies Alliance uses art to get 140 young Winnipeggers thinking about their futures.

The question youth hear from adults all the time is, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Why don’t we ever ask, “Who do you want to be?”

This year’s Youth Agencies Alliance Annual Art Show, called “When I Grow Up,” posed exactly that question. Through an innovative series of art workshops, Winnipeg youth discovered who they want to become; the types of characteristics they want to embody and how they will demonstrate those characteristics.

They thought about who they look up to, and what kind of city we would have if everyone tried to be their best.

YAA hosted a high-energy gallery opening at Graffiti Gallery to open the show, made possible in part by donations to United Way.

Kids from all over the city came to see their artwork up on the walls of a respected gallery, filling them with a sense of accomplishment and possibility.

Youth Agency Alliance art show.

A young person who attends the West Central Community Program plans to be the kind of person who gives blood when he grows up.

A young person who attends the West Central Community Program plans to be the kind of person who gives blood when he grows up.

Melanie Wight, Minister of Children & Youth Opportunities, was excited by the positive vision the artists had for Winnipeg’s future.

“I saw many pieces that said ‘respectful, generous, kind…’. I can’t tell you how important kindness is in this world.

It just makes me happy to see so many dreams, on the wall & living in people’s hearts.

I look forward to a future with people like you in it, working to make the world a better place.”

Youth Agency Alliance art show.

Select works from “When I Grow Up” will be shown in the Manitoba Legislature’s Keystone Gallery this fall.

The excited voices and smiles of the artists show how much it matters to encourage young talent, introspection, and a bigger view of our place in our communities.

This young person plans to help his fellow Winnipeggers when he grows up.

This young person plans to help his fellow Winnipeggers when he grows up.

YAA's annual art show.

This young person who attends Spence Neighbourhood Association programs says “I want to be a teacher because teachers have a big effect on the kids, and the kids have an effect on our future.”

Stand up to bullying for Bullying Awareness Week

Bully-free zone signBullying should never be a ‘normal’ part of growing up.

This week is the 10th Annual Bullying Awareness Week – a call for everyone to think about how they can play a role in preventing bullying in their community. It’s a time to celebrate and promote solutions to the problems of bullying – because everyone deserves a safe and caring environment to grow up in, and we all have a hand in making that happen.

Chad Smith, Executive Director of the Rainbow Resource Centre, a United Way agency partner, knows how important that community support is. “Since about 2010, we’ve heard a lot in the news about bullying and the tragic suicides that have followed in the United States and across Canada,” he says. “But these things also happen in our own community.”

Rainbow Resource Centre works to build up three pillars for the youth that come to them – first, developing their leadership skills. Second, creating a community – giving them a place to connect with fellow LGBTT youth. And finally, developing personal resiliency. “Our kids often have to go back to schools and to homes where they may be bullied and may not be supported. This is a place,” says Smith, “where you can come if you’re LGBTT or an ally and feel safe to be yourself.”

The Canadian Red Cross (Manitoba) also addresses bullying and other forms of violence and abuse through its RespectED program, with support from United Way of Winnipeg. Designed to promote healthy relationships and safe environments, the program is delivered by presenters who travel to schools and many other organizations in the city and throughout the province.

The United Way-supported Youth Agencies Alliance, a group of 18 youth-serving organizations, is marking Bullying Awareness Week by sharing links and stories on their Facebook page. On Tuesday, they highlighted a Winnipeg Free Press article about Ken Mason, who talks openly about being afraid of the older kids in his neighbourhood when he was young.

United Way is proud to support these agency partners – we believe in helping kids be all that they can be, and supporting mentorship, counselling, and out of school programs that nurture self-esteem, confidence, and positive behaviour.

For more information about bullying, including tips for how to prevent it, visit the RespectED website.



The Great Animation

Mermaids, ships and rocket cars – there’s no limit to what kids can create when they’re given the opportunity!

Check out The Great Animation, a stop-motion art project by 200 kids from the Youth Agencies Alliance, a group of 18 youth-serving organizations that is supported by United Way.

The Great Animation is this year’s offering of an annual art show that is produced by the Youth Agencies Alliance. According to the YAA:

This year, organizations were paired together and brought participating youth to Studio 393, in Portage Place mall, to make a portion of what would become a dream-like collaborative stop-motion animation movie, with contributions from youth across the city – led by Art City and Graffiti Art Programming, along with the fantastic edition of the Just TV team!

Youth Agencies Alliance Art Show Poster


Pulling together for Winnipeg’s youth

Youth Agencies Alliance photo“It’s great to all be on the same team,” says Izzy Goluch of the Youth Agencies Alliance (YAA).

That desire to pull together is the spirit the YAA, formerly the Coalition of Youth-Based Serving Agencies. The YAA is made up of 19 non-profit after school and community services agencies, all with a common goal: improving the lives of marginalized youth in Winnipeg. Eighteen of those agencies are also supported by United Way.

Each has their own unique way of helping kids be all they can be. Art City encourages youth to express themselves through art. Kildonan Youth Activity Centre builds teamwork through sports. “There’s a real variety,” says Goluch. “And it allows a lot of the smaller agencies to have access to information and resources they might not otherwise. As a large group, our voice is stronger.”

And those conversations have also led to some amazing joint projects, like their annual Art Show.

Every year, youth from all YAA members get to attend a series of art-based workshops and get creative. One year, they learned to tell stories with digital cameras. Another year they made full-body casts of community leaders that were papier-mached with images from around the city and displayed at Central Park. The artists took visitors on a tour of the art themselves, and took great pride in seeing their creation on display for the city to share in.

“From each of our collective experiences, we’re learning from each other” says Goluch. “Everyone is so supportive of each other, it’s amazing to see.”