An Eye Opener: The Limberlost Youth Initiative

On July 28, 2014 at 1481 Limberlost Rd, Unit 136 in London, Adam Fearnall and Melissa Zuleta Jiménez got together with the youth taking part in the Limberlost Summer Youth Initiative program. We asked some questions trying to understand a little about their lives in the city of London. The program is run by the Limberlost Community Chaplaincy and managed by Lindsay Hoover, focusing on youth between the ages of 11 and 18.

We asked about the activities they participate in, what they do when they are bored, what they are interested in, what they would like to have in the city and what they ‘hated’ about the city itself. Some of the answers we received were expected from this young demographic (i.e. the grand majority voted in favour of a Canada’s Wonderland in London). There were many answers and insightful messages that shed light on some of the social and economic issues that impact the lives of the youth in the Limberlost community.

1) What do you? Sports, music, video games, dance, malls, hang out with friends, read, go to the library, etc.?

The majority of the kids usually participate in activities such as video games, watching TV, reading, athletics (running, basketball, rugby, biking) and often spend time with friends and family. A couple of the participants showed interest in leadership activities and, were in fact, working at the chaplaincy. Some of the youth helping out Lindsay (the manager of the youth initiative), are getting ready to begin their first year of university and are interested in taking leadership roles in their community. Lindsay shared with us that she is, in fact, training for a triathlon.

2) What do you do when you are bored?

The answers to this question were not very surprising. Most of the youth agreed that taking a nap when bored was the best option. Going on Facebook and watching TV were other popular activities. Some of them shared that they look for activities that keep them active, such as swimming in the Thames pool, and baking. They shared one piece of valuable advice: “Never take three-hour showers.”

3) If you could have anything in London, what would it be and why?

This was one of the most interesting topics of our conversation. They were definitely more engaged in the conversation as Adam pushed them to think outside of the box, and they were definitely taking notice that he was attentively taking notes of what they were saying. They thought about activities that were offered in other cities and the possibility of implementing these in London.

These are some of their dreams for London:

  • Stadium to make people more proud about the City

  • A mall with a water-park in London

  • Petting Zoo

  • Another version of Canada’s Wonderland/ Amusement Park

  • Clean and develop the area around the Forks of the Thames River so that we can swim in it again/ a beach by the Thames River

  • Boat turned into a restaurant at the Forks

  • More movie theatres close by (Sherwood Forest)

  • Western Fair closer or an easier way to get there; ways to win free tickets to the Western Fair or free ways to get there

  • Affordable grocery store downtown

  • Franchises of the Covent Garden Market

  • Haunted Houses like in Niagara Falls

The youth believe there are a lack of tourist attractions in the city and they believe the aforementioned ideas could potentially be some solutions to this problem. They pointed out that they sometimes miss out on a lot of events that take place because of a lack of advertising. They suggested that a central directory would help to inform a greater number of people and allow for these events to grow. The group agreed that there seems to be a lack of sport activities and choices in London that they could join. They brought up the idea of having London’s very own baseball team, or even a volleyball team.

As we went around the room, asking about their dreams for London, one of the younger boys said: “To be able to do whatever you want that is legal without being criticized. People criticize you for the smallest things. [I want to be able to] live freely.” This comment really made an impact on both Adam and I, because it shed light on how the youth of the Limberlost community perceive themselves. This statement had an incredible impact on me because of the age of the boy. I don’t think he was any older than 12 years of age; I did not necessarily expect a 12 year old to say something like this profound and feel this deeply about his surroundings.

4) What are the things that you hate?

As we delved deeper into issues that disgruntled them, we got a good sense that youth at this age take notice of the actions of their peers and of the adults around them. One of the young men complained about his parents smoking inside the house and said he hated when people smoked. They even asked us to stop people from smoking all together. Some thought that this might be difficult to do, but Adam pointed out that it’s possible to make big changes to behaviour if you work hard. He pointed to the fact that people are no longer allowed to smoke in restaurants and bars any more. They also identified that they are often “blamed for things that they didn’t do.” Again, this demonstrated to me that there is something worth exploring about how relationships develop within the community and how young people in Limberlost feel like they are perceived. They complained about the drugs at the skate park, which is located beside the Medway Arena by Sherwood Forest Mall. The skate park seems to be another place for the kids to come and meet up with their friends, and is somewhere they can go when they are bored. They complained about the skate park being too small and wish to see more additions and better ramps than the current ones that are available to them.

One of the girls pointed out how her mother usually comments on how she does not see her as ‘black’, even though her family is of ‘black’ heritage. This led the girl to ask a lot of complex questions about her identity and created some confusion about the way that she perceived herself. Limberlost is home to a diverse community filled with people from Eastern Europe, to Northern Africa, and Canada.

5) What are some of the problems for you in London?

For the majority of the questions, we tried to go around the room, in order to ensure that everybody’s opinion was taken into consideration. These are the main points:

  • Public transit: there are not enough routes or hours and it is a highly stigmatized form of transportation

  • Smoking is a problem: they pointed at the smoking pit at Banting, and how this can create social problems at the school. In addition, the majority complained of the smell and wish they could be in a healthier and cleaner environment.

  • Kind of boring in London: The city does not offer a wide range of activities (“Sunfest was cool,” but they pointed out that this was the most the city offered in terms of cultural events); They find movies enjoyable and a good form of entertainment, however, it is the only thing to do in London, and getting to Silvercity or Rainbow can be a hassle since most of them are high school students and don’t have access to a car.

  • More sports: They complained that athletic activities divide the youth by gender and some times, the boys wanted to hang out with girls as well, not being forced to hang out with just people of their same gender. They pointed out that not a lot of girls participate and there should be more activities aimed at girls, or at least allow for sports to be more inclusive of women.

  • Employment opportunities: This topic is important to keeping young people in London. They view London more as a place to retire, rather than a city to pursue their career goals. One of the counselors pointed out that it is easier to find full time jobs rather than part-time jobs, which is an inconvenience for students that wish to work and study at the same time. There are also fewer people in London than in Toronto, which could limit networking opportunities.

  • Leadership initiatives are really disjointed.

  • “The only reason that I like London is because of the people that I’ve met”: They recognize the fact that they do have a community here that knows and supports them. I believe this statement is an excellent building block, since they are willing to be part of helping London to grow as a city.

Questions from the group:

What does it feel like to be a woman in a position of power?

My answer: I don’t really think about it until people point it out. I never notice that I am a woman in a position of responsibility and leadership until someone points it out to me. I do feel proud that I am a woman and in this position and I recognize that I have more of a responsibility in this role. Being a woman does not discredit my work.

Conclusion: 

As previously mentioned, this meeting was a big eye-opener. Not only was it my first constituent meeting, but also it was youth oriented and youth-led, meeting with the aims and purposes of the LYAC. The opinions we received from this group of young individuals were diverse and refreshing and allowed me to re-visit my original aims and goals that I previously thought were important issues as a Ward 7 Youth Councillor. I firmly believe that youth have more to say and more to do than simply going on Facebook; the group’s enthusiasm and curiosity proved this to be true. I am looking forward to keeping in touch with the Limberlost community. I hope to help to empower the youth in this community by demonstrating how they can be leaders who take charge of how their community is shaped.