Positive space gets positive reviews from participating youth

Desirée Jackson, Community Program Coordinator at the WNCHC (left), and celebrity drag artist Jenna Seppa (right), along with some of the youth attendees of the Youth Positive Space program on Wednesday, June 28th. Seppa was the special guest for the evening and came to share her experiences with the youth.

Christian Gammon-Roy


The final day of the West Nipissing Community Health Centre’s Youth Positive Space pilot program was on Wednesday, June 28th, and after just one month, it has already made a difference. The program ran every Wednesday in June, coinciding with Pride month, and offered a variety of activities in a ‘safe space’ where youth could feel free to be themselves. The goal of the pilot was to gather information and feedback on a program that organisers dubbed “for the youth, by the youth,” and as far as coordinator Desirée Jackson is concerned, it certainly accomplished that goal.

“I think it was a huge success. We’ve had around 16 to 17 participants, we’ve had new participants joining in every week after we started, which is always nice to see that the kids are spreading the word and talking about the program. They always tell us how they feel extremely safe, and they can be their true selves, so it’s been just a very positive experience,” Jackson describes, adding that the kids are now eager for the full launch of the space, due to happen around September or October.

In the meantime, Jackson says that the planning committee has work to do in going through collected feedback and discussing the challenges and triumphs of the pilot. “In September we’re going to meet and assess. I had evaluation forms today that the youth were able to fill out, so we’ll be able to look at those evaluation forms, look at the trial and errors of what went well, or what went wrong,” says Jackson, adding that one of the challenges she noticed is adequate volunteer coverage. “What I did realize is because it’s such a big space and we have so many different rooms, I need to make sure that the youth are all in one room with two of [the volunteers], because we only usually have two adult volunteers,” she notes.

Jackson acknowledges that having the program at the Community Health Centre provides stability with regards to space and costs. However, having enough volunteers to keep the program thriving and growing is a challenge that she hopes to tackle. For adult volunteers, she admits that there are a lot of certifications involved. An adult volunteer will need a vulnerable sectors check from the police, inclusion training, as well as potentially gaining certifications from programs such as safeTALK (Suicide Alertness For Everyone), and ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training). Luckily, interested volunteers can contact the planning committee and Jackson says they will cover the cost of all training. Organisers will also be offering a peer mentoring program in August. The goal is to have some of the youth themselves become mentors and volunteers, an idea that also fits into the framework of “for the youth, by the youth.”

During the final day of the pilot, participants got to meet and chat with local drag artist Jenna Seppa (Michel Gervais), who came in as a special guest. Seppa spoke about her story, from her first ever performance to doing drag in Toronto, moving to West Nipissing, and even her time starring in the Call me Mother televised drag competition. She also went over makeup tips, how long it takes getting into drag, and other questions from a truly captivated audience. The youth present were visibly excited to have her present, and some were even inspired to try performing. The kids and adult volunteers then all participated in a raffle for West Nipissing Pride swag, where the names being pulled out of the hat were all drag names that they had just created. The visit ended with many selfies which the youth demanded, and Seppa was happy to oblige. “It was awesome! I’ve been wanting to meet her for a while. Drag has been a really big interest of mine, so it’s really cool that they included that,” described Eddie Caron, one of the youth who attended Wednesday’s event.

After the event, Michel Gervais, who also chairs the Pride committee, said he was thrilled with the reception Jenna Seppa received. “I’m so grateful to have been part of the soft launch of this amazing and important project! Being in the presence of these kiddos got me thinking about my high school experience, which although it being fairly recent, felt so much different. I’m in awe of their open, pure queerness (and of their wit)! It was really special getting to witness their excitement with my visit and their engagement throughout the evening. I’m looking forward to seeing this beautiful chosen family continue to blossom in this space,” he beamed.

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