Youth involved in improving their community

Sarah Everest, Centretown News

Sarah Everest, Centretown News

New play structures were erected after the community raised $36,000.

Rochester Heights is improving the community through the efforts of its youth advisory committee, which gives kids the opportunity to support the neighbourhood they call home.

The committee allows the kids to express what they want to see done in their community. The members, teenagers between 13 and 16, meet once a week to plan programs and assess the needs of the community.

Rania Rizk, 14, says she joined the advisory committee to get involved in the community and to meet people in her neighbourhood.

“(It’s important) that people can go out and not just stay home. They can get to know other people,” she says.

Rochester Heights is a group of Ottawa Community Housing units, located at Gladstone and Rochester streets. It is one of Ottawa’s first social housing complexes and consists of 104 townhouses built in the 1960s.

The community has many families and they have made many improvements for kids in the neighbourhood.

In August, volunteers and residents built two new play structures in two Rochester Heights playgrounds, replacing the old ones, which were a few decades old. They raised more than $36,000 for the project over the course of nine months, which was matched by the non-profit organization “Let Them Be Kids.”

 “I think the play structure was a very good beginning,” says Jo-Anne Poirier, CEO of Ottawa Community Housing, Ottawa’s largest social housing provider. Ottawa Community Housing helped with the fundraising for the project and donated $10,000.

Poirier says Rochester Heights is making good progress with its youth initiatives. Rochester Heights has one of the city’s first youth advisory committees and it sets an example in the community, says Poirier.

“What we’re encouraged by at Rochester Heights is that there is a significant youth component that is showing great leadership,” says Poirier.

The play structure was the biggest projects completed in the community, says Fauza Mohamed, Somerset West Community Health Centre’s co-ordinator for Rochester Heights.

The play structure was a long-running project of the community, but it’s not the only initiative undertaken to make the community better for kids. Rochester Heights has implemented a variety of programs and resources, such as the community house, which was created two years ago. The house is a place where kids can go after school and receive homework help, take art and drama classes, use computers and meet other kids in the community.

As a youth advisory member, Rizk was involved with the play structure project, and helped raise funds. She says she hopes in the future the committee can create new opportunities for youth, giving them more access to sports and planning activities for the March Break.  

Meghan Macdonell, child and youth community developer for Somerset West Community Health Centre, says the kids are actively pursuing these ideas.

 The centre is in the process of applying for a United Way Youth Action grant, which could give the committee up to $2,500 to put towards a community development project.

The grant would be used to pay for spring break activities, as there is currently little programming offered for kids over the March Break, when they are out of school.

Macdonell says the committee would also like to see the basketball courts improved and hope to raise the money to do so by spring. “There’s lots of cracks . . .  now it’s right next to a really nice playground, so hopefully we’ll get some nice basketball courts soon,” says Macdonell.

Poirier says that Ottawa Community Housing is hoping to create youth advisory committees in other communities across Ottawa, with the hope that youth participation can help make their communities  better for kids.

As those councils are created, Poirier says they’ll be looking to the youth advisory of Rochester Heights as a model.