About the RMYC

The Regional Multicultural Youth Council (RMYC) has provided a voice for youth in Thunder Bay and small isolated communities across Northwestern Ontario for about 25 years.

The Council was formed by a group of youths who participated in activities organized by the Multicultural Association of Northwestern Ontario (MANWO) to celebrate the United Nations International Youth Year in 1985. Melanie Goodchild, an Aboriginal high school student from the Pic River Ojibway First Nation, was the founding president. Her vision of youths from all backgrounds working together for a common future has guided the Council through the years. She went on to become the first Aboriginal youth to win the YTV Award for her work with the RMYC.

Through the years, the Youth Council has maintained a “youth-to-youth” approach to advance the well-being of children and youth and improve social conditions in the communities where they live. An inclusive youth executive runs the Council and speaks for the group on public platforms. The officers represent youth on civic committees, and organize forums to give voice to their issues, interests and concerns. The youth consult with their peers, plan and organize their own activities that can make a difference in their lives, at school, and in the community. The Council’s governance is exemplary, and has been acknowledged by the Laidaw Foundation as a model of youth engagement. The RMYC liaises with professionals for advice, and collaborates with various groups and agencies for broader ideas and effective community development.

“In this organization, young people are always standing in front,” says Moffat Makuto, Executive Director of MANWO, a regional parent organization of the RMYC. “The youth have talents and potential to be caring, resourceful and responsible. They need our support to become knowledgeable and capable leaders.” For example, after gaining experience working with MANWO to help newcomer youths settle in Canada, the Youth Council initiated an Orientation Program to welcome Aboriginal youths from remote northern homogeneous reserves to urban centres. This youth-to-youth initiative has been recognized by local schools as contributing to reducing attrition and improving the success rates of Aboriginal students.

We can also add that during her term as president of the RMYC in 1998, Pauline Fogarty started the Revolution Girl-Style Program, which aims to empower young women to follow their passions and realize their dreams. The Girl Power initiative has since expanded across the region, and covers gender issues, feminism, violence against women, parenting, careers and professions. Governor General Adrienne Clarkson was very impressed with the REV-Girl Power program during her visit to the youth center in 2002. Her work earned Pauline the Governor General’s Person’s Case Youth Award in 2009.

The RMYC engages young people and challenges them to be part of the solution to problems affecting them. The Council has hosted youth conferences, organized focus groups, promoted peer mediation to resolve conflict, conducted surveys, and done interviews on issues that include racism, the environment, poverty, mental health, creating safer communities, recreation and so forth. Youths are encouraged to offer constructive ideas to tackle issues that affect them. To date, the Council has compiled information and produced resource materials to improve police/youth relations, make schools safer, improve security in local neighbourhoods, enhance safety at bus terminals. Studies have also been done on school uniforms, bullying, youth street gangs, race relations, curfews, and shared with appropriate authorities.

The Council does its homework and comes up with recommendations to urge all levels of governments to develop policies to address issues such as poverty, mental health and global warming, put in place prevention programs to deal with addictions, provide funding for structured after-school activities, support lifeskills training and job experience programs for youth, and fund drop-in centers as safe places for kids to hang out and grow together.

The Multicultural Youth Centre, which has been in operation in Thunder Bay since 1992, is the headquarters for the Council and a youth drop-in. It provides a welcoming place for young people to be involved in positive activities, get help with homework, meet good role models, learn about the resources and supports in the community to help them, and get the information they need to make wise choices and informed decisions.

The center also co-ordinates youth leadership and organizational development sessions, runs stay-in-school activities, and hosts social functions, workshops, summer camps, sports, games, entertainment and youth entrepreneurship training. These initiatives have attracted Lieutenant Governors Hillary Weston, James Bartleman, Govenor General Adrienne Clarkson, and various Cabinet Ministers to visit the Youth Centre.

Being a multicultural group, many of the Council’s activities are related to promoting understanding across cultures and races. They include youth-led presentations, art competitions and multicultural ribbon campaigns to commemorate March 21 - The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination; receptions to welcome newcomers and celebrations to facilitate their integration into Canadian society; participation in events recognizing the contributions and struggles of Aboriginal peoples; sharing information and resources to celebrate African/Black history month; and ongoing campaigns with all educational institutions and municipal services to ensure that their promotional materials are inclusive and reflect the diversity in the community.

We are proud that these activities have earned the RMYC international, national, provincial, regional and local recognition such as: the Royal Commonwealth Youth Service Award, the Canadian Race Relations Foundation Award of Distinction, the J.S. Woodsworth Award, Lakehead Social Planning Council Award for Equality and Social Justice, and City of Thunder Bay Volunteer Service Awards. In addition, many members of the Youth Council have received various awards including a total of four officers who have won the Lincoln M. Alexander Award for leadership in combating racism since they were introduced in 1993.

“Youth communicate better with their own peers,” says Makuto. “They are walking the walk, so they can talk the talk. There is no generation gap to worry about, and given the support, they develop confidence and become role models who can reach out and influence their peers. Others look at them and say, if he/she can do it, I can too.” It is, however important that the youth get the training, and the encouragement to develop their talents and networking skills. Fully utilizing the positive enthusiasm young people have will go a long way to foster as caring society, enhance social justice and create responsible citizens.

There are over 100 young people actively involved in the Council’s peer leadership initiatives across the region. Their work in different schools, reserves, rural and urban communities is having a positive impact on thousands of students, children and youth. The greatest challenge to date is a lack of on-going funding to support young leaders and sustain successful activities. The RMYC has relied on fundraising bingos for stable operating costs. But, after the Thunder Bay Charity Casino opened downtown in 2000 revenues have declined drastically. This has forced the centre to relocate four times in the past eight years searching for cheaper places to rent. Unfortunately, the cheapest spaces available have not been the best locations for children and youth in regards to their safety and well-being.

Last winter (2009) we were forced to close the Youth Centre because we did not money to cover heating costs. This deprived many young people a safe warm place to hang-out after school with positive peers, do homework, use computers, access information and resources just because we could not raise enough funds.

“It is unfortunate that as young leaders, we are spending more time fundraising instead of implementing programs, and delivering services to our peers. I feel that my talents and positive influence can have a greater impact being there at the youth centre and helping at-risk and vulnerable youth, rather that selling candy bars to raise rent money” says Martin Zhang, a sixteen-year old high school student who was president of the RMYC in 2008.

The Multicultural Association tries to cobble together project funding from a variety of sources. But, with most projects receiving one-time grants, this undermines the continuation of successful and popular activities, and the effective application of best practices learned. The Association has opened a restaurant adjacent to the youth center to help raise funds to pay for staff and keep the lights on at the drop-in. It is an on-going struggle to keep the youth centre’s doors open when the demand for services and program costs often exceed revenues.

To try and ease the Council’s financial burden, some First Nations whose young people come to Thunder Bay to continue their schooling are paying user-fees to access services such as: orientation to urban life, recreation, tutoring, lifeskills training and other activities to help Aboriginal students cope with being away from home. A set back is that it is students with sponsors who now get priority to use the center. Unfortunately, this creates jealousies and tensions between the ‘have and the have-not’ youths, and puts the Youth Council’s principles of social justice, equality, fairness, and inclusiveness into question.

“We must invest in the next generation,” says Makuto. “We need to support all children, reach out to youths who are vulnerable and at risk, and help those whose families, neighbourhoods and communities are marginalized. We should give kids a voice, engage them as stakeholders, and involve them in shaping their destiny. We have to give children and youth hope for the future and make them feel they belong. If we are not ready to accommodate them, and provide positive alternatives, the gangs are waiting on the streets with their own welcome wagon.”