Today in our #GCFGrantStories series is Community Grant recipient Elora Centre for the Arts (ECFTA), which received funding for The Nest! Community Outreach Program.
The Nest! is designed to support local youth ages 10+ seeking to re-engage and reconnect with their peers in a safe, creative, and nurturing space. It is an open-flow, gender-diverse space with gently guided creativity and gathering with friends. Tea, a snack, and supplies for the art projects are provided. ECFTA Arts Facilitators and Educators offer supervision and support, and students bring projects to work on.
Staff network with teachers at local schools to help identify students who could benefit from the program and may have disproportionate obstacles to participation, such as transportation or cost. Two spots per session are allocated as free spots to families who request to ensure accessibility for low-income families. Two six-week sessions were planned to run weekly after school from September to November 2022. However, staff had to expand the number of spots to accommodate the demand for this program! They ran three session terms of the program from September 2022 to June 2023. They ran 33 classes, with 827 participant spots filled.
Participants grew their skills in knitting, sketching/painting, braiding jump ropes, watercolour marbling, and sewing. In addition, several participants went on to become friends, spending time together outside of The Nest!
Throughout the program, staff partnered with several community groups, including the Elora Monster March Parade, collecting food for the Food Bank; Fergus Community Food Garden, providing hand-painted plot signs to be used annually throughout the growing seasons; high school student mentors; and exchange student mentors from Spain and France.
Parents have given positive feedback, including: “[The Nest!] is the first social group my child has expressed belonging to and having friends,” “My child looks forward to coming every week!” and, “My child said, ‘It’s a place where nobody has to be cool. I can just be myself and not have to worry.’” Staff say the program will continue as there is a definite need in our community for a creative and safe place for tweens to feel connected, and they will look at expanding the number of sessions to accommodate the demand.