#OCChangemakers 2023-2024 Mid-Year Project Highlights: Andrina, Helen & Jennifer

Updates from Andrina, Helen & Jennifer at mid-year of implementing their projects as a #OCChangemaker.

The Poets Project

Andrina Lewis (Lewis, the Artist), Barrie

Project Description & Goals

Andrina Lewis, also known as Lewis the Artist, is working on her Ontario Community Changemakers project, the Poet’s Project, which aims to create a collection of poems and related artworks that members of the Simcoe County community will perform.   

Up to this point, Andrina has been actively laying down the groundwork for her project. She is working on scheduling, developing engaging online videos, and curating relevant content that will benefit the participants. 

It seems small, but I actually get very excited just planning these workshops because I feel I would have really appreciated it when I was younger. Let’s just say, the childlike light hasn’t dimmed yet! 

Project Highlights

So far, Andrina has built relationships with like-minded individuals and organizations interested in producing the show and displaying the artwork created by the future participants. The project has received positive response and support from poets and youth in the community eager to participate in the showcase for the first time. 

Project Challenges

One of the challenges Andrina had to deal with was the decision to include individuals beyond the “youth” category. The original idea to focus on youth came from her own experience of not having opportunities to perform her work in her youth and the desire to give those who haven’t had a chance to perform their creations. She eventually decided to include people of all ages, with preference given to those who may not have had many opportunities to showcase their poetry and art. 

Another challenge revolved around determining the duration of the project’s mentorship component. To make it more flexible and convenient for participants, the mentorship duration was reduced from two months to three weeks, and meetings were mainly conducted online. Although the exact dates of the final performances have not yet been confirmed, the goal is to provide the participants with enough time to navigate the online program, attend scheduled meet-ups with other participants, and rehearse well for the performance day. 

What’s Next

In the next six months, she will send out applications for the program and invite the mentors to help the upcoming creators gain confidence in their work.  

Andrina hopes The Poet’s Project can end with great performances and a collaged mural wall of amazing artwork created by future participants.  

About Andrina

Andrina (Lewis. the Artist) 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 unite community members of all ages. The ultimate goal of her practice is to grasp and emit vulnerability, transparency, and humanism. She believes artistry is the foundation of community strength and resiliency. 


Culture Connect: Building Intergenerational Bridges

Helen Chen, Scarborough

Project Description & Goals  

Culture Connect: Building Intergenerational Bridges is a youth-led project that aims to tackle the intergenerational disconnect between diaspora youth and seniors in Scarborough – through honest, knowledge-sharing conversations held in a safe public space.  

Among diaspora communities in Scarborough, they’ve seen high levels of social isolation, stress, and intergenerational & cultural disconnect – for both youth and seniors. Taking a community mental health approach to these issues, the project’s primary goal is to convene a series of block parties in the summer of 2024, featuring: 

  • Food, activities, and music  
  • Art by Scarborough residents related to intergenerational issues 
  • A structured game to spark community conversations about intergenerational rifts – what we have in common, what has caused us pain, and what makes our experiences unique.

The parties they plan on running are meant to be a fun and open environment where youth and seniors learn about each other’s experiences, reflect on culture as a source of strength and stress, and gain a deeper appreciation of the strength that can be drawn from the community. 

In June 2023, they made several changes to their organizational structure to prioritize youth leadership for this project, but for the future of our collective. The core decision-making now rests with diaspora youth members ages 15-25, with support from a newly formed group of Board of Directors who have been with Scarborough Youth United for many years. 

Through conversations within existing activist networks, friends, and older family members, we are in the process of developing a training curriculum for onboarding new youth members, as well as figuring out a tactful, considerate approach for our block party game that asks people to be vulnerable about pains caused by intergenerational conflict and migration.   

Project Highlights

Much of their relationship-building has been internal, reaching out to their existing network of active members and peers. Still, they also hope to establish ongoing relationships with at least 1 other youth organization, and 1 senior-led grassroots group in Toronto by the end of this project.  

Other project highlights include:  

  • Engaging conversations about the power of games to spark difficult conversations, which is a new approach to community-building for us 
  • Seeing how starting this project has created new avenues for youth leadership within our collective! 

Project Challenges

Helen has pointed out that building long-term relationships with immigrant seniors has been the most significant challenge. Based on initial conversations, lack of time and health issues hinder senior civic engagement.  

The collective is trying to devise ways to involve seniors in the decision-making process of their block party and game in a way that makes the most sense for their schedules and lives.   

 What’s Next

In the next few months, Culture Connect: Building Intergenerational Bridges will focus on prototyping games and building partnerships with either cultural organizations or mental health advocacy groups 

About Helen

Helen is a new media artist and community organizer living in Scarborough, Ontario. She co-manages a STEAM education centre for youth on the Danforth and helps build intergenerational relationships between old and young diasporic folks with Scarborough Youth United. Helen is deeply invested in community-building and creating opportunities for others to help their communities become more open and inclusive.

Instagram at @scarboroughyouthunited

#socialinclusion #civicengagement

Together Is Better

Jennifer Singh, Pickering


Project Description & Goals  

Together is Better, a project initiated by Jennifer Singh, founder of Gyal Dem Cycling Collective (GDCC), aims to foster a supportive community for self-identifying women in Toronto and the GTA. GDCC serves as a social space where women can unite, explore, and share their passion for cycling. 

The primary objective of GDCC through the Together is Better project is to enhance confidence and offer education to empower and inspire their collective through organizing educational events that bring women together in a safe and fun environment.  

GDCC has fully achieved their goal with two successful events. 

The first event was a bike maintenance workshop at Bike Depot Pickering.  The collective learned about safety, mechanics, and tools to make cycling a more comfortable experience. The Bike Depot provided hands on demonstrations with saddles and nutrition and even had a bike giveaway. The collective learned about bike repair kits and helmets, and everyone left with an item they needed to ensure they were safe on the road. They also hosted a ride to and from the shop, challenging the collective with many riders hitting the 100km milestone for the first time.  

The second event was specific to cycling apparel with Peppermint Cycling Co, a women’s clothing brand specializing in cycling apparel. The representative provided hands-on visuals and allowed the collective to try on cycling shorts. They held a draw for cycling shorts and bibs, socks and accessories. 

Seeing the pride someone has in achieving a goal they didn’t know they could do and finding a community of people who accept and support them along the way was very rewarding.  

Project Highlights

GDCC’s social media following has grown to 2500 followers, and Strava Club to over 400 members from their two successful events,  

Most importantly, they saw their collective’s impact on their local community. With more educated riders, they saw an immediate increase in longer rides and riders who were normally city riders explored new roads with more confidence.
Through the OCC’s support, the collective could give back to others, hosting a “fill the fridge ride” where their collective gathered food and supplies for local community fridges. They rode around filling up the fridges with over 1000 items for those in need.

Another highlight was that they could host longer rides, resulting in record participation and individual accomplishments.  

Giving back – many of our collective didn’t have the appropriate tools to have a safe ride. Kowing, we provided bike repair kits and helmets, tools and nutrition for so many ensured the future success of our collective.

Project Challenges 

The Bike Depot event was a massive project. Riding from Toronto to Pickering as a group of 40 with varying skill levels involved a lot of preplanning, including mapping and testing the over 80km route. They experienced everything from flats, cars, hills, and meltdowns but safely arrived at Pickering from Toronto.  

What’s Next   

Now that the project has ended, they are finishing the winter with some engagement through socials, with the last of the funds going towards fun draws. 

 About Jennifer Singh   

Jennifer Singh is an energetic women of colouring living in the heart of downtown Toronto. She works full-time in recruitment and human resources, and in her free time, she is passionate about cycling with her friends. Cycling has become a centrepiece to her life through community involvement and as a daily commuter on bike share. Gyaldem Cycling Collective’s (GDCC) focus is encouraging and inspiring all women to ride and explore Toronto and the GTA.   

 Relevant Links 

  • GDCC was invited by Patagonia Cycling Mixer night in July to watch the screening of “Monte” and asked as guests of the event to speak about their community and their mission and goals