An innovative program run by WoodGreen (WG) Community Services is helping youth of African descent from the city’s east end develop into responsible adults.
Rites of Passage, which is based on a well-tested, internationally recognized afro-centric curriculum that also includes volunteering, leadership training and employment, kicked off for 2015 on Monday.
This time around, 23 young people ages 14 to 17 from several east-end high schools have signed up to take part.
Tashawn, a Grade 10 student from Wexford Collegiate School for the Arts, learned about the program after attending an information session hosted by WoodGreen. He said he was interested in taking part because he wants to learn more about his African roots.
Beoncé, a Grade 9 student who attends Victoria Park Collegiate Institute, learned about the program from her older brother who also took part in Rites of Passage. She was especially interested in joining after attending the graduation event that included traditional African items and activities.
Albert Munyorovi graduated from Rites of Passage last year, but is back as a leader-in-training. He knows first-hand the benefits of the program.
“Like these guys, at first I didn’t know what to expect. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do it but my parents encouraged me to stick it out,” he shared.
“Then I started making connections and we did a lot of fun stuff. I learned a lot of things they don’t teach you in school.”
A Grade 11 student at Leaside High School, Albert said Rites of Passage taught him a lot about himself and where he comes from.
“After graduation I felt more confident and I have more goals for the future,” he said.
“I feel because of this program I’ve seen a lot of people who know where they want to go.”
The life-changing program, or process as it’s called, runs twice weekly on Mondays and Wednesdays for 18 weeks after school at WG’s Victoria Village location at 1533 Victoria Park Ave., at Eglinton Avenue.
It also includes retreats outside the city and in some instances trips abroad. Developed in the United States, the Rites of Passage process is modeled on the West African Akan tradition, which aims to instill leadership in participants by nurturing responsible adulthood, developing a sense of purpose, building a community perspective and fostering resiliency. To do so, facilitators lead discussions and activities that centre around helping participants develop and nurture their sense of self-respect, self-determination and a responsibility to their community.
“(Rites of Passage) is a vehicle to engage young people,” said Sipho Kwaku, who brought the program to WG eight years ago and continues to help run it.
Kwaku, who also serves as the east end social services agency’s director of employment services, said Rites of Passage is all about reinstilling a sense of pride and dignity in youth of African descent.
Paul Osborne, who has been with WG for seven years, is the program’s manager as well as a facilitator.
“It’s a great program for youth, especially those from marginalized communities,” he said, adding as a leader he feels a great sense of pride when he sees participants grow from one stage in life to another. “The majority of the more than 100 graduates are doing well and many have come back to help with the program. … To this day, many are very close, very connected and they support each other.”
WoodGreen recently received a significant, multi-year grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation’s Youth Opportunity Fund and is working to expand Rites of Passage to the Jane/Finch and Jane/Wilson, Don Mills/Steeles and Kingston/Galloway communities by 2018.
For more information on WoodGreen and its various programs, visit www.woodgreen.org