Seeds of neighbourly chats turn into fruitful program partnership

Emma Sutherland, Executive Director of Red Fox Healthy Living Society, and Emily Keller, Executive Director of Environmental Youth Alliance, got to know each other in the hallways of the SpencerCreo Centre. As EDs of small, social justice non-profit organizations, they found they had a lot to talk about, and realized that EYA and Red Fox had shared values and complementary missions.  As their chats in the hall became more frequent and lasted longer, they started to share with each other the challenges and opportunities each were facing in their roles.

When the call for submissions for the new Canada Youth Service Corps project came out in the spring of 2018, Red Fox had already been working successfully with federal and provincial funders for many years and Emma knew it was an opportune time to apply for federal funding. The Canada Youth Service Corps program was created by the federal government to promote volunteerism to Canadian youth to help them see the value of altruistic community service and gain employment skills.

Emma approached Emily with the idea of applying for a grant together, combining the best of Red Fox and EYA to create something new. She readily agreed, and they spent the next few months applying for the grant, and then refining it once they were shortlisted.

As a result of their hard work, the Seed Generation project was launched in February 2019. It was an exciting first year with many challenges and opportunities. Collaborating at this level was a new experience for both EYA and Red Fox and they used all their skills and abilities to make it work.  It was exciting to be able to offer a new adventure to youth. Connecting youth to the land and giving them opportunities to help their communities is important and sets them up for success in many areas of life. Youth of all backgrounds come together to give back and have fun. Seed Generation promotes outdoor recreation as well as environmental stewardship, and one of the highlights for the youth in the first year was urban and wilderness camping trips.  

When the federal government announced that they were extending the Youth Service Corps project for another year, they applied and the Seed Generation was refunded. By the second year, Red Fox and EYA had their partnership down and Seed Generation was making a difference to many youth throughout Metro Vancouver.

“Two organizations coming together and combining their strengths to help empower the youth of today has a big impact.  We help the youth navigate today’s challenges and give them the guidance they need to realize their potential and pursue their passions” – Suki Chhoeun, Red Fox Seed Generation Program Manager

In July 2019, another call for proposals from Employment & Social Development came out. This time, it was for intensive youth internship programs to help youth who face barriers prepare to enter the workforce. It was a big endeavour, so once again, Emma and Emily decided a collaboration would be beneficial to both organizations and by extension, to the youth and communities they serve. They applied for the grant under the Youth Employment and Skills Strategies initiative. Once again, they were shortlisted and had to spend several months refining the application.  Their application was successful and they launched the program in May 2020. Their contract is for three years and is worth $1.75 million. Much of that amount goes directly to youth through living allowances and wages at practicum sites.

Because of Covid-19, the nature of their collaboration in the YESS internship program had to shift to meet the new reality.  The safest strategy was to keep the groups small and run separate programs of six youth and two staff members each.  There is some overlap, but generally each program is operating on its own. Now, youth can choose between two great employment training options: learning how to work in the environmental stewardship field or working in recreation and child care.

Seed Generation has also adapted to the new realities: they hold all activities outdoors, spaced apart, and divide participants into two groups for the weekly recreation outings that have replaced the camping trips. Since mid-November, most activities are done virtually. The staff has done a great job creating on-line content that is keeping the youth active and engaged. Connecting youth with each other is more important than ever.

EYA and Red Fox continue to learn from each other and grow as a result of their collaborations, with thanks to their amazing staff teams: Suki Chhoeun, Madison Ardizzi, Joseph Posey, Siobhan Davis and Chuck Wright of Red Fox and Erica Ellis, Sidney Verburg and Hailey Bird Matheson of EYA for all their innovation and dedication.

“We are grateful to the SpencerCreo Foundation for being the genesis of our collaborations! None of this would have happened without the vison and generosity of the Foundation to create the SpencerCreo Centre. We are thankful to have the opportunity to share the space with so many dynamic and diverse organizations doing valuable work” – Emma Sutherland.

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