Unique meetup pairs young people, decision-makers for one-on-one convos

rTraction CEO and Jasmeet Dhaliwal exchanged contact information, after building this collage with the magazine cut-outs they chose and discussed with each other. Liny Lamberink/980 CFPL

Young people and community decision-makers broke down some of the barriers that exist between them during a unique meetup at Victoria Park on Tuesday.

Connecting on a human level, creating space for real dialogue, and opening up the possibility for long-lasting relationships were some of the goals, as politicians and small business owners were matched with newcomers and Indigenous youth for one-on-one conversations.

“I know from first-hand basis what it’s like to be a newcomer youth, and feeling isolated,” explained Kristina Fearon, one of the organizers.

“You want to belong because you don’t know anything, where to start, and it’s just good to bridge that gap between the people that basically run the community and the newcomer youth, so it’s easier for them to feel more at home.”

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With the help of a grant from the province, Fearon and other young people were able to meet, organize, and send invitations for Tuesday’s event. In order to kick start the conversation between leaders and young people, they had participants choose a number of magazine cut-outs based on different questions.

“You go to the table with your match, you share the photos, and you see what you might have in common,” explained Fearon. She also said an important aspect of the event was that it happened outside organization confines, so that “it would be easier to foster a real conversation,” and so that no one came with “hidden agendas.”

David Thuss and Kristina Fearon begin their conversation in Victoria Park. Liny Lamberink/980 CFPL

Before starting a conversation with her own match, Fearon was feeling hopeful. Young people often believe politicians and business leaders only speak to them for a photo opportunities, or to appear as being diverse, she explained.

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“To see them coming out, taking time out of their own day… they chose to come and talk with youths, which are generally not taken seriously. That is amazing.”

NDP MP Irene Mathyssen, councillor Tanya Park, Pillar Non-Profit Network executive director Michelle Baldin, and rTraction CEO David Billson were among some of the community leaders who participated in the event.

NDP MPP Irene Mathyssen and her match examine prompts given to guide their conversation. Liny Lamberink/980 CFPL

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After chatting for about and hour and a half, Jasmeet Dhaliwal and David Billson shared contact information.

“Despite our differences, there are a lot of similarities,” said Dhaliwal.

“Sometimes we forget everybody else’s struggle, because we’re so consumed in our own. So it’s always good to connect and reach out, so you’re able to see everybody’s perspective and look at it more holistically,” she explained.

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Both Dhaliwal and Billson said the conversation reaffirmed some things they already knew.

“Despite having different cultural backgrounds and upbringings, a lot of the struggles that we face as children [are] the same,” said Billson. “We use similar concepts to describe the challenges that we had in our childhood, from concepts of bullying, to isolation that comes from that.”

The community event was made possible through a Multicultural Community Capacity Grant from the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration.

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