‘The Wikwemikong Greenhouse for Change’ project named finalist in Aviva Community Fund

A conceptual drawing of the Wikwemikong Greenhouse for Change.

WIIKWEMKOONG—Focus Forward for Indigenous Youth, on behalf of a partnership between the Wikwemikong Employment office and Wikwemikong High School, has been named one of the finalists for $50,000 in funding from the Aviva Community Fund to build a greenhouse.

“Focus Forward for Indigenous Youth has offices in Toronto and Kingston,” explained Althea Wishloff, the team leader for the Toronto office. “Our vision is to improve the quality of life for Indigenous people. We meet with communities and look at their needs and projects that haven’t gotten done due to a lack of resources and help them find funding and bring projects to fruition.”

Ms. Wishloff said that through meeting with the Wikwemikong Employment office, a need was identified to develop a community greenhouse and a project was developed, ‘The Wikwemikong Greenhouse for Change.’

The Wikwemikong Greenhouse for Change project will support educational goals for students in the community ages 14 to 19, while creating a community-led sustainable food source.

“Building a greenhouse is a value-added approach to community capacity development that will be community owned and led,” explains the Focus Forward project description. “Students at the high school will develop skills in construction, while also learning how to work together to fight ‘food security,’ the idea that many remote communities lack access to fresh foods and hone limited agricultural knowledge.”

The proposed greenhouse will be built by Wikwemikong High School students in the construction/tech program, earning the participating students credits.

“Students will build the greenhouse in the summer of 2018, earning school credits,” said Ms. Wishloff.

“Once constructed, this greenhouse will provide the Wikwemikong High School the opportunity to launch an innovative green industries agricultural program that teaches students the benefits and challenges of creating a community-led sustainable food source,” the project description continues. “The program intends to open enrollment for fall 2018. The capacity of the community will be further enhanced through the efforts of the employment office, by ensuring the greenhouse can be utilized free of charge by all community members.”

Focus Forward plans to use innovative building techniques and technologies such as biomass and solar which is why they are seeking funding for the project.

“The funds would be used for building materials, engineers to help with the design and hire contractors and other trade professionals to help with the educational element and supervision of the building project,” added Ms. Wishloff.

The partnership identified that there are issues facing Indigenous students, noting the under-funding of on-reserve schools, lack of resources and culturally appropriate curriculum in their reasons behind the project and applying to Aviva funding under the ‘community resilience’ category.

“These directly correlate to issues affecting the quality of life for Indigenous youth, such as alarmingly high rates of suicide, drug and alcohol abuse, and high rates of incarceration,” noted the Focus Forward application. “Focus Forward is attempting to address some of these challenges through the Wikwemikong Greenhouse for Change project. We plan to achieve: an increased sense of hope and inspiration among Indigenous youth; opportunities to develop hands-on skills,

Increased knowledge of solutions in solving ‘food security’; advanced knowledge and skills necessary to pursue a career in trades and/or agriculture; and increased availability of healthy foods for the entire community.”

Focus Forward said it believes the project will help motivate youth in the community to pursue their dreams and graduate from high school by providing students with hands-on and employable skills.

“It will also improve intergenerational relationships,” the application continues. “Both the building and educational components of the project will involve numerous community members, creating an important opportunity to reverse some of the negative effects of the residential school system on kinship and community relations. As well, it will provide affordable access to healthy and nutritious foods. The project has the potential to overcome challenges that affect Indigenous communities, such as diabetes and obesity, through agricultural education programming and an abundance of fresh produce options.”

Focus Forward’s mission is to collaborate with Indigenous communities across Canada to improve the overall quality of life by empowering their youth through applied focus programs that give back to the community.

“The Aviva Community Fund helps passionate people like you make positive change in your community,” states the Aviva website. “For eight years, we’ve been putting our money where our business is, investing in charitable community initiatives across Canada, protecting the people and things you love, supporting the causes you care about most, and strengthening your local community. To us at Aviva, this is just good thinking. We’re so proud to have provided more than $7.5 million in project funding to date, and we can’t wait to donate another $1+ million this year.”

“The project being selected as a finalist is really a testament to the projects focus on sustainability,” said Ms. Wishloff. “The projects selected for funding will be announced by Aviva on Tuesday, December 5.”

Regardless of the outcome of the funding announcement, Ms. Wishloff said that Focus Forward plans to move forward on the project.

“Our team is applying for other grants right now in the event that the project isn’t selected by Aviva. We plan to keep pushing forward to accomplish this green house for the community of Wiikwemkoong.”

For more information about the project, visit www.focusforwardfly.org or for more information about the funding, visit www.avivacommunityfund.org.