Between September and November 2020, our finalist charities will be working closely with the brilliant minds at ICON transdisciplinary classroom in the University of Guelph’s Community Engaged Scholarship Institute to further explore and strengthen their ideas. Following a pitch in December by all four student-charity teams, one charity project will be voted the winner of The Oak Tree Project’s 6th season!

Big Brothers Big Sisters Guelph

Big Brothers Big Sisters Guelph hope to build new virtual youth mentoring programs, as well as recruit and train volunteers for the program.

In their words:

Because of the physical distancing measures put in place to mitigate the impact of COVID-19, the at-risk children in our mentoring programs are experiencing a great deal of isolation and additional stress, compounded by the fact that our in-person mentoring activities needed to be suspended. To correct this, we instituted remote mentoring programs through a virtual meeting platform. Our objectives now are to maintain these virtual matches, create new virtual matches to serve additional children, and prepare and execute a plan for the
eventual return to in-person meetings.

The biggest struggles we are facing during this time is making effective use of available virtual solutions to fully support our mentoring activities, and that our volunteer applications are at an all-time low. ICON students would help us more effectively engage and retain our volunteers, families, and mentees by providing valuable input and solutions in the following areas: online volunteer and child/family recruitment; training of volunteers in effective online engagement; recruitment of diverse demographics; optimizing online engagement of
participating children; social media engagement; and online fundraising.

Canadian Mental Health Association Waterloo Wellington

Canadian Mental Health Association Waterloo Wellington would like to develop a peer support program to help address increasingly urgent youth mental health needs in our community.

In their words:

Prior to the pandemic, almost 50% of youth in Ontario were at moderate or serious risk of a mental health issue. This reality has been no different in Wellington and Guelph. Youth of Wellington and Guelph, together with their families, have been falling through the cracks time and time again. Since COVID-19, a recent poll from Ipsos indicates that more than half (59%) of parents noted behavioural changes in their youth ranging from outbursts or extreme irritability to drastic changes in mood, behaviour or personality and difficulty sleeping/altered
sleeping patterns, as well as persistent sadness and more.

The Integrated Youth Services Network (IYSN) is a collaborative project, with the objective of providing the right services to the right youth in a timely and efficient matter. A network of community organizations has come together with a vision for a newly designed system, comprised of seven sites all networked together by technology, to directly address youth needs in our community, including mental health and substance abuse needs. The Canadian Mental Health Association Waterloo Wellington (CMHAWW) serves as the backbone organization for
the IYSN.

ICON students will have the opportunity to collaborate with a myriad of community organizations, and they would have the opportunity to influence, and co-create a program that is intended for youth, like them. The IYSN would benefit greatly from this partnership by gaining insights from youth; thereby developing a program for youth, by youth.

Guelph Arts Council

Guelph Arts Council would like to expand a new support service that supports low-income artists whose livelihoods have been impacted by the pandemic.

In their words:

Since March, GAC has been engaged in conversations with individual artists and cultural workers across disciplines. These conversations are happening directly through GAC channels and also through our participation in forums like the Mayor’s Task Force on Economic Recovery. Many of these artists’ livelihoods have been severely impacted by cancelled gigs and events, and business and organization layoffs and closures. Many are transitioning to online sales and performances, but generating income online is challenging. Other artists are struggling with skill and other resource gaps that further impact financial wellness in the pandemic. Local artists will need ongoing support to resume working as the pandemic continues.

This program will support low-income, vulnerable artists whose livelihoods have been impacted by the pandemic with Guelph Arts Council one-on-one consulting and membership benefits. This service will remove financial access barriers to Guelph Arts Council membership services, which include one-on-one consulting
support and communications services. For one year, services will be offered at no charge to artists experiencing financial hardship due to COVID-19.

ICON students’ entrepreneurial spirit, innovation, creativity, and research skills can benefit Guelph Arts Council and our artist members. Students could help Guelph Arts Council research an effective collection of resources to support staff training and subsequent consultations with artists. They can also help artists generate ideas and strategies for post-pandemic career recovery and bring their creativity to bear on GAC’s related workshop/webinar programming and membership service delivery.

Guelph Black Heritage Society

Guelph Black Heritage Society would like to create educational resources and booklets and then lead a black history education campaign in our community.

In their words:

In this watershed moment that will forever change the course of Black history, the GBHS has launched its educational campaign, “#ChangeStartsNow – Educate Yourself.” Funding from the Oak Tree Project will be used towards this initiative which will include:

  • A curated list of GBHS-recommended resources (books, movies, videos, etc.) for those seeking factual, curated information on Black history and issues. The list of resources and how they can be accessed (i.e. library, Netflix etc.) will be posted on the GBHS website.
  • Library of Black Literature. The late Flora Francis was a founding GBHS Board member and a librarian who worked at the University of Guelph. Ms. Francis had a passion for education and was a champion in promoting the works of Black authors and educators. The Library of Black Literature will be dedicated in her honour and will be housed in the lower level of the Heritage Hall.
  • Development of a booklet on local Guelph/Wellington Black history.
  • Guelph Black Youth Council, which will provide a safe space within Guelph for Black youth to meet and speak freely on their daily issues. This council will also provide workshops and training for Black Student Unions to be started in high schools all over Guelph.
  • Educational and cultural events including panel discussions, workshops, concerts. These monthly events will be organized by the dedicated GBHS volunteers. All GBHS events are open to the general public.

Working with ICON students will enable GBHS to continue to build on the relationship we have had with the University of Guelph over the past several years. ICON students will be able to assist in outreach and community engagement of the #ChangeStartsNow Initiative. The students will be able to outreach within the GBHS community and their own communities thereby the network of outreach is broadened.