Twenty Young Leaders Selected As Ontario Community Changemakers For Their Innovative Ideas To Improve Their Communities

20 young leaders from Ontario will receive a $ 5,000 microgrant and leadership development and training to implement their idea to activate public space, enhance civic engagement and foster social inclusion in their Ontario communities.

20 young leaders from Ontario will receive a $ 5,000 microgrant and leadership development and training to implement their idea to activate public space, enhance civic engagement and foster social inclusion in their Ontario communities.

TORONTO— June 14, 2023 — 8 80 Cities announces the 20 winners of their third cohort of Ontario Community Changemakers, a leadership and microgrant program to support residents aged 19-35 with innovative ideas to create more equitable, healthy, and engaged communities. 

The Program

Ontario Community Changemakers is a program led by 8 80 Cities, a nonprofit organization committed to improving the quality of life for people in cities by bringing people together to enhance mobility and public space.

“We are very excited to announce our third cohort of this amazing program; we had a staggering number of applications this year with many great projects led by amazing individuals,” says Shannon Lawrence, Project Manager for 8 80 Cities.  “In our third year, we are starting to see how this program sheds light on service gaps in communities, the OCC projects from years one and two have had an impact beyond the scope of the 2-month period, and we are very excited about what will come from this year’s cohort.”

The program’s mission is to support and elevate the voices of emerging civic leaders in communities across Ontario to inspire and enact change.

OCC is a mini-grant program designed for Ontario residents aged 19-35 with innovative ideas to activate public space, enhance civic engagement, and/or foster social inclusion. The program is run with support from Balsam Foundation.

“We launched this program to support emerging community leaders in Ontario. We received more than 100 strong applications this year and have chosen 20 changemakers with bold ideas and unique stories to tell. These folks already have tremendous strengths and capacities, and the courage to act; it’s our job to create the space to help them build confidence and provide a network of support. It’s especially exciting that this new cohort will be able to see the impact the first two cohorts had in their respective communities. Each year of OCC means we are building a stronger and more diverse network of leaders who are enhancing civic engagement, activating public space, and fostering social inclusion across the province.”  Amanda O’Rourke, Executive Director, 8 80 Cities

This year’s program will include a hybrid (virtual and in-person) studio, which involves presentations and storytelling workshops by inspiring community leaders and skills-building workshops on project planning, community engagement, communication, and tactical urbanism. The 20 successful Changemakers have 12 months to implement their idea and will receive ongoing training and capacity building from the team at 8 80 Cities and a network of international public space experts.

 The Winners & Their Project Ideas

Aizenose Eromon | Toronto, ON

Aizenose is a passionate young resident of Ontario, Canada, who is dedicated to making a difference in her community. Through volunteering with numerous organizations, including food banks, homeless shelters, and community centres, Aizenose witnessed firsthand the transformative power of community events in promoting social inclusion. Her unwavering commitment to equality and diversity shines through as she actively works towards breaking down barriers based on race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender, gender identity, age, and sexual orientation. Her efforts have demonstrated the positive impact individuals can have in creating a more inclusive and accepting society.

Teen Connect

The project will offer skill development, community service, and recreational activities while aiming to activate public space, enhance civic engagement and promote social inclusion through social events. The Teen Connect Program will include community clean-up days, free workshops, and training on topics such as gardening, art installation, and community building. This program is a space for teens from diverse backgrounds to intermingle while coming together to nurture their talents and skills.

Andre Cooper | Toronto, ON

Hailing from the biggest little dot in the world, Jamaica, Andre is a Development and Communications Specialist with a specific focus on equity, inclusion, social justice, and connecting marginalized communities. His background spans areas including human rights, LGBTQ+ rights, youth development, people living with HIV/AIDS, public relations, program development, and strategic planning. Andre now serves as the Executive Director at Equitable Action for Change, a black-created and focused not-for-profit agency in Toronto, Canada, focused on combating anti-racism using a community-based approach — responding to the needs of African, Black, and Caribbean communities. Andre is a passionate storyteller.

Igniting Your Soul and Leadership 

The project is a journey to self-empowerment to help BIPOC members recognize and heal from unhealthy patterns. The circle will guide and promote understanding of inequities and practices to diverse ages, gender identities, and sexual orientations.

This project will be rooted in diversity, equity, and inclusion principles, it will aim to boldly counteract social exclusion that impedes growth and development in our communities.

The project will transform lives through an intersectional responsive circle model that promotes resiliency and healthy relationships in youth and adults.

Andrina Lewis
| Barrie, ON

Andrina (Lewis.theArtist) is a multifaceted Black artist, poet, performer, and storyteller. Influenced by her poetry and prose, her artwork is colourful, bold, and wild, embracing Afrocentric hairstyles, tattoos, scars, and outfits. She aspires to develop creative workshops and public art that bring together community members of all ages. The goal of her practice is to grasp and emit vulnerability, transparency, and humanism. She believes artistry is the foundation of community strength and resiliency.

The Poet’s Project

Using introspection and meditation on our past/present experiences and hopes for a better future, this project will encourage its participants to create poetry and artistic designs to be presented to members and visitors to Simcoe County in a theatre setting. The creation could be beautiful, emotional, thought-provoking, or peaceful. This is in hopes that we learn and understand the various cultures, values, and beliefs that the participants have shared.

Balu Kanagalingam | Toronto, ON

Balu Kanagalingam is a rogue community worker who has previously worked with Toronto Arts Council, Ontario Arts Council, Arts & Culture City of Toronto, and Ontario Health Network. To Balu, home has always been a main topic in his life, especially coming from stolen land and settling on stolen land.


100 CNFSSNS is a brave and compassionate space where Black, Indigenous, and racialized men can witness each other honestly. 100 men will be invited to read another man’s confession out loud in a brave and compassionate space.

A confession is not only an expression of remorse about the past but also a hope for the future. This project is about taking accountability through storytelling. We hope that through open and truthful disclosure, we can come closer to terms with some of our beliefs and behaviours that may have caused ourselves and others harm.

Benjamin Wright | Ottawa, ON

Ben is a fourth-year Industrial Design student at Carleton University. His project focuses on innovation and sustainability in design and manufacturing. As the design industry grows, there is a renewed emphasis on community and placemaking, where individuals are often expected to meet their spaces as they are, rather than rising to meet their needs. Ben is passionate about the third places that form the foundation of our safe and equitable communities. He believes that our spaces should be consciously designed with empathy for the human needs of our growing communities.

Welcome: Activating Public Foyers Through Comfort and Accessibility

“Welcome” – is an Ottawa-based social initiative focused on activating foyers and entrance spaces. These areas are fluid and must meet a wide range of user needs. They are the first space someone enters and the last one they leave. The current foyers of the Rideau Community Hub are passive and do not encourage users to engage. Therefore, he sees an opportunity for these spaces to be welcoming and useful tools for all community members. Activating these spaces through comfort and accessibility encourages socialization and civic exploration within the greater community.

Chris Yao | Mississauga, ON

Chris is an art adventurer, zine maker, and library technician student. They often hang out at the Center for Social Innovation and Sketch. They have co-organized and co-facilitated various events and workshops while being silly and rooting for their pals.

Double Rainbow Zine Fair
The Double Rainbow Zine Fair will be a welcoming and accessible space for zine-makers, offering performance and workshop opportunities in addition to tabling. This event will prioritize QTBIPOC, disabled/neurodivergent artists, and new/emerging creators.

The title ‘Double Rainbow’ shows the intersection of the neurodivergent flag colours with the queer Pride flag colours. It is a play on an old internet joke that seems fitting with the theme and intention of our project: inclusivity, joy and wonder, and self-expression.

Darren Pottie | Russell, ON  

Darren Pottie is a queer artist, writer and curator exploring the intersection between contemporary craft and lens-based media, a symbiosis between experimental digital media and process-based tactile practices. Recent curatorial projects include In Keeping With Myself with the Portrait Gallery of Canada and Descendance at the SPAO Centre. In 2023 Pottie was selected for an international curatorial residency in Dublin, Ireland, and has had works published by the City of Ottawa and PhotoEd magazine. He currently lives in Russell, ON, on the unceded territory of the Anishinaabe Algonquin Nation.

2023 Russell Photo Expo

The 2023 Russell Photo Expo will be a free outdoor photography exhibition and competition for both amateur and professional photographers. Four winning images will be selected by an independent jury and then printed as large-scale public art. These outdoor public art photographs will be installed along a walking trail within the Russell/Embrun area for all to enjoy. The Expo is an opportunity for folks of all skill levels to engage in the arts, revitalize public space, and renew a sense of pride and inclusion within the rural, suburban community.

Micha Happie Edwards | Toronto, ON

Happie is a self-taught Tkaronto-based Poet, Personal Growth Chef, and Speaker from rural Jamaica. Trained at Ontario’s premier culinary school, Micha spent a decade empowering people through food, fostering joy and nourishment. As the founder of HAPPIE, a company nurturing well-being and self-worth, Micha guides vision-driven entrepreneurs, artists, and innovators in aligning their food relationships for optimal living. Raised by a diabetic mother and having experienced his own gut health issues, Micha understands how lifestyle profoundly affects well-being. Seeking natural approaches to eating and healing, Micha shares wisdom to create a brighter world where individuals embrace their uniqueness without shame.

Food for Joy: Promoting Well-being and Inclusion in Little Jamaica

Happie Inner Quest, led by Micha Edwards, is a transformative community healing program that supports BIPOC individuals’ joy and mental well-being. Through playful food conversations, participants explore their relationship with food, culture, and identity, fostering connection and community.

Recognizing the necessity of joy, self-expression, and ease. Participants engage in transformative conversations, healing and building confidence while developing a balanced relationship with food and identity. Participants collectively address challenges and triumphs, fostering unity and shared purpose.

Promoting joy, mental well-being, and social inclusion, Happie Inner Quest uses food to uplift and strengthen individuals, fostering connection and belonging in the wider community.

Helen Chen | Scarborough, ON

Helen Chen is a recent Toronto Metropolitan University graduate from Scarborough with a background in community organizing, program facilitation, and youth engagement. She is passionate about creating opportunities for people to get involved in helping their own communities become more open and inclusive spaces. In the past, she has worked with the Chinese Canadian National Council and Toronto Metropolitan University’s academic accommodation services and is currently a core committee member of Scarborough Youth United, a youth-led grassroots collective seeking to support East and Southeast Asian youth in addressing their core community concerns.

Culture Connect: Building Intergenerational Bridges

Culture Connect: Building Intergenerational Bridges is an initiative by Scarborough Youth United (SYU) that aims to tackle intergenerational disconnect among diaspora youth and seniors in Scarborough through honest knowledge-sharing conversations held in a safe space. This will take the form of 2 block parties in the park this summer featuring a conversational game centred around community mental health, as well as activities, food, and other forms of community-building.

Hibo Isse | Toronto, ON

Hibo is an accessibility advocate dedicated to removing barriers to opportunity for people with varying abilities. Her personal and professional experiences have strengthened her interest in learning about how best to assist individuals with diverse needs in meeting their needs. Hibo believes in the power of education to foster understanding and acceptance. She is especially driven to support people with intellectual disabilities to live healthy and fulfilling lives. As an Ontario Community Changemaker, she seeks to continue her advocacy work in the hopes that this will help to challenge ableism and promote accessibility.


ExploreON is a digital, social learning tool which profiles various public spaces in Ontario to help people with intellectual disabilities feel comfortable navigating unfamiliar spaces.

Igor Samardzic | Toronto, ON

Igor is a member and co-founder of several nonprofit boards, reflecting his deep commitment to community work. His persistent efforts focus on the creation of a more accessible, equitable and livable city for all.

Access Unbound: Disability in Public Spaces
This project strategically positions disability in public spaces, serving as a catalyst for public education and awareness about the experiences of people with disabilities. The vivid displays, similar to an outdoor art gallery, will punctuate our societal presence, asserting our visibility and right to space. Igor’s objective is to ensure that accessibility considerations remain at the forefront of public consciousness, enhancing civic engagement, activating public space, and fostering social inclusion.

Igor imagines public spaces that reflect the stories and lived experiences of people with disabilities, thereby acquainting the wider public, particularly able-bodied individuals, with our needs and narratives

Jennifer Singh | Pickering, ON

Jennifer Singh is an energetic woman of colour living in the heart of Toronto. She works full-time in recruiting and human resources, and in her free time, she is passionate about cycling with her friends. Cycling has become a centrepiece of her life; through it, she has built friendships and lasting memories. Gyal Dem Cycling Collective’s (GDCC) focus is encouraging and inspiring all women to ride and explore Toronto and the GTA. Building confidence and providing education is something that GDCC focuses on, and, as with all their rides, the vibes come free.

Together Is Better

Together is Better is a workshop-style program offering free maintenance and bike education. The conversations at these workshops will also include discussions about cycling apparel, which will be followed by a ride.

Kamilah Francis | Sudbury, ON

Kamilah is a first-generation university graduate who showed her five siblings that post-secondary education was not out of reach despite the barriers they faced. Her BSc (Hons) in Behavioural Neuroscience initially propelled her into working in the field of brain injury, where she focused on advocacy, identifying and breaking down systemic barriers, resource navigation, and education. Kamilah is a change agent and visionary with a proven track record of designing and implementing highly effective initiatives. She is passionate about allying with marginalized populations and amplifying their voices. She interacts with all individuals through a lens of empathy and equity.

Future North: Redefining Success

Future North is Redefining Success for youth 15-30 years old. Youth and young adults are pressured to pursue education and achieve successful careers. But what is considered successful? Is there a “right” path to achieving success? Through engaging speaking and networking events targeting various populations (BIPOC youth, youth with disabilities, youth in school, and youth going right into the workforce), Future North will demonstrate to youth that the journey to success is instead a journey in success, where the path is not defined, nor linear, but success is achieved at various points along the journey.

Mabe Kyle | Brant County, ON

Mabe is a maker of poetry, pottery, and photography. They is an adventurer who calls many places home across borderlines. Mabe is a builder of communities who embraces friends, family, and their neurodivergent mind. Keener for desserts served at every meal with the sweetest tooth you may find. Yearning for disability, justice, and liberation for the collective. Learning how to express gratitude and be kind. Mabe embodies a life without binaries and is very introspective.

Queer Country Crossroads: Stories of Rural 2SLGBTQIAP+ Life
Queer Country Crossroads will create a multimedia oral history storytelling project where Mabe interviews multiple rural 2SLGBTQIAP+ folks about their experiences. This project will share their stories in different formats and through different platforms that they feel comfortable with to amplify their voices. The project’s final goal would be to create a documentary as well as a book with photography, interview transcript text, and the Changemaker’s own reflections of doing the project. In addition, Mabe hopes to host zine-making workshops for youth to create and distribute a “rural queer survival guide” to libraries and at public pride events in rural Ontario.

Nicole Tanti | Belleville, ON

Nicole is passionate about the healing power of plants and their ability to support growth, healing and connection in the individual and collective experience. Utilizing her background in horticulture, community art and social justice; she has been privileged to work with people of all ages in diverse community settings. She has coordinated children’s gardens on Toronto Islands and High Park, worked as a community educator teaching topics including food skills, gardening and nature connection, painted murals with children as a community artist and teaches yoga and meditation with organizations such as SickKids.

The Tea Garden

Enjoying a cup of tea is a way to come into the present moment, unwind, and connect with loved ones. The Tea Garden will be based in a local, urban setting in Belleville. The garden will feature perennial herbs and native species that can be harvested to make tea, along with informative signage to encourage engagement and learning. It will be a beautiful and accessible meeting place for community members of all ages to gather for educational workshops, storytelling, tea parties and other opportunities for connection.


Patricia Wilson | Peterborough, ON

Patricia Wilson is an environmentalist, community leader and social justice advocate who is passionate about diversifying the environmental field. She advocates for proper representation and inclusivity in this sector. In 2021 Patricia founded Diverse Nature Collective (DNC) – a grassroots organization that works to empower, mobilize, and create space for Black, Indigenous and People of Colour within the environmental movement and reduce barriers to racialized folks in accessing nature.

BIPOC Environmental Bootcamp

This project is an event series focused on skills-building, community connection & education for racialized individuals to gain knowledge while reducing barriers to accessing nature.

The event series will be done in partnership with local environmental organizations and will help participants develop essential skills to help them gain comfort in the outdoors.

The activities will range from intro to backcountry skills, stewardship, restoration & more. The hope is to create a space where BIPOC individuals can learn from racialized leaders in the industry and be empowered to pursue opportunities within this sector.

Saif Ahmed | Ottawa, ON

As the co-founder and Chief Innovation Officer at NL Eats, Saif is passionate about inspiring and empowering others. He is working on projects dedicated to enhancing participatory knowledge-building and building resources needed to create equitable and inclusive spaces. With a diverse background in process engineering, data science, and project management, Saif combines his expertise to drive positive change and works on projects prioritizing sustainable agriculture and food security. Saif’s dedication lies in empowering the next generation of change-makers and building sustainable communities where everyone can access nutritious food and an active lifestyle.

S.O.C.I.A.L. – Supporting Outreach and Community Involvement for Active Living
S.O.C.I.A.L. – Supporting Outreach and Community Involvement for Active Living is an innovative project to engage citizens in the transformative world of modular hydroponic gardens. The project will involve setting up modular hydroponic gardens in accessible public spaces such as community centres. Saif envisions hosting educational workshops and interactive sessions where citizens of all ages and backgrounds can learn about sustainable agriculture, hydroponics, and the importance of environmental stewardship.


Samantha Loney | Barrie, ON

Samantha Loney is a Metis filmmaker and podcaster from Barrie, Ontario. She was a supervising producer on the third season of the Indigenous 150+ podcast series as well as producer of the fictional podcast Herstory the Podcast Series, which was recently featured at the Victoria Arts Council’s Levelling up, Breaking Down Women’s Day exhibit in March of 2023. Samantha is currently in post-production of the Travelling Metis podcast, a hybrid fictional/interview-based podcast series that teaches about Metis culture. Samantha hopes to continue to pass down her podcasting knowledge to Metis youth in her community.

Travelling Metis

Travelling Metis is a podcast project made by Metis youth for Metis youth. The podcast hopes to spread knowledge of Metis culture in a fun, engaging way. A hybrid of fictional and interview-based podcasting, Travelling Metis travels around Ontario to teach and share stories of what it means to be Metis.

Shamah Salwa | Scarborough, ON

Shammah Salwa is a Bangladeshi-Canadian multidisciplinary artist, photographer and writer based in Tkaronto (Toronto, Ontario). Combining documentary modes with surrealist techniques, her work engages with various environmental justice topics with a special research focus on food insecurity and food waste and asks broader questions of how the personal or private is connected to larger systems. Salwa studied Environment/Diaspora Studies at the University of Toronto and Photography at Toronto Metropolitan University. She is a certified Enviroleader at Access Alliance and leads workshops on the vermicomposting method to repurpose household food waste.

Vermicomposting: From the Home to the Garden

Vermicomposting: From the Home to the Garden will engage individuals and families to design and build their own vermicompost (worm) bin at home and collect worm castings over the course of two months in early spring. At the start of the growing season, the group will gather at a local community garden to plant seedlings and learn the benefits and uses of worm castings as an organic fertilizer.

Rebecca Beaulne-Stuebing | Toronto, ON

Rebecca Beaulne-Stuebing is Métis, with maternal family roots in the Sault Ste. Marie Métis community and Manitoba. She is also of Austrian settler ancestry through her father’s family. Rebecca completed a Ph.D. in social justice education and Indigenous health at the University of Toronto and collaborates on several community projects.

440 Parkside Collective: Indigenous-Led Land Restoration in Toronto

The 440 Parkside Collective is an Indigenous-led land restoration project located in High Park in Toronto, established through collaborations between the Indigenous Land Stewardship Circle and the Asemaa Circles Project. Since 2020, community members have been working together to restore habitat for older-than-human relatives in a 10,000-square-foot space, a former lawn bowling field. The site holds space for community ceremonies, celebrations, education, and research. Medicines, seeds, and food grown in the space are shared freely with the community. The work of the 440 Parkside collectives is supported by the High Park Nature Center and the City of Toronto.