Our Executive Director, Louise Adongo, recently posed a series of questions to Morgan Dunn, the Communities Building Youth Futures Coordinator in Digby. Here is part one of Morgan’s response.
Tell me a bit about you and your journey to your focus on work for youth?
I started with Inspiring Communities as a university student while taking my Bachelor’s degree in Community Development from Acadia University in 2019. As part of my degree, I was required to complete a six-week work placement. I reached out to Jill Balser, the Project Lead, since I had a connection with her from a previous co-op placement when I was in high school. I asked if she happened to know of any community development organizations within the Digby area and she said that she had just started working for an organization called Inspiring Communities a couple months before, and agreed to have me on as a student.
While I was doing my placement, I noticed that there was not a huge focus on youth and that youth were facing many barriers which caused a high level of outmigration and disconnectedness. I began doing more research and reached out to youth-serving organizations, but no one seemed to be addressing this need. At the end of my placement, I felt that there could be more done to support youth, and that there should be a role dedicated to this. I created a job proposal and pitch for a Youth Engagement Coordinator position to work with youth and address these needs, and brought it to the Inspiring Communities’ then-Senior Director. I asked if they would consider hiring me. At the time they did not have the funding in place to hire another person, so I sought alternative funding. A community partner had suggested applying for the Graduate to Opportunity fund to support new graduates, and this paid for a portion of my salary. Inspiring Communities agreed to pay the rest. From there, my job was created and I started working full-time with Turning the Tide.
When I started working as the Youth Engagement Coordinator, I began with building connections with youth and youth-serving organizations. I reached out to many youth organizations I had talked to before as well as new ones, particularly within Digby Regional High School. I asked more in-depth questions to understand from their perspectives what the current gaps are for youth in the community, and what they are currently doing. I also started volunteering within the school, doing the breakfast program every Thursday morning, as well as doing pop-up discussions in the SchoolsPlus room. I conducted group discussions in classrooms and asked youth questions like how connected they felt to the community, how the community can be improved, and if they see themselves here in the future. From this initial research and relationship building, other work emerged. With community partners, I presented a lunch and learn program and a health care panel. Soon after these began, the CBYF work started. My work transitioned beautifully and almost seamlessly into this new focus of supporting youth in their transition to post-secondary or employment, as, during the group discussions, themes of lack of ’good’ employment opportunities and lack of support with the transition to adulthood emerged.
What do you do for/with CBYF?
I am now the coordinator of our youth initiative called Communities Building Youth Futures (CBYF). My official job title is Communities Building Youth Futures Coordinator. It is a little hard to explain what I do, as there are so many layers and components to my work, but if I were to sum it up in a sentence or two, my role is to coordinate and manage our CBYF Backbone team and community groups (Leadership Table, Youth Connections Team, Action Teams), as well as building our network. I also am involved in strategic planning/thinking for the CBYF work and making sure this work aligns to our Turning the Tides common agenda and key priority areas. A large portion of my role is managing relationships, working with backbone team members, the Leadership Table, and Tamarack to develop and guide the CBYF work.
What do you like about this work with CBYF?
There’s so much I like about this work!
- Helping youth make their visions for the community a reality and giving youth a voice. I love how much hope youth have for a better community.
- I love working with people and getting to know their story. Everyone has a reason for getting involved in this work whether it be first-voice experience, passion for helping people, or sometimes other reasons; it is cool to get to know people on an individual level and work with them towards a better community.
- The support and opportunities given to the CBYF staff and youth. We’ve had the opportunity to connect with youth from communities from across Canada and attend webinars. There have also been opportunities to learn from Tamarack, which has been so great, they have so much knowledge and experience in this work.
- Being able to support youth facing barriers. Growing up in the community I’ve seen many youth and peers struggle on their education and employment journeys, there are so many factors going into these barriers. I’m glad I get to work with youth, youth-serving organizations, and community members towards reducing some of these barriers. It feels like we’re making real change. It’s so great to be able to work with and alongside community members towards developing and amplifying supports for young people.
- I like that this work is pretty much completely youth-based: youth got to decide our key priorities for this work, come up with our youth space and programming ideas, and have been involved in the decision-making of this initiative. It has been so amazing to see the youth leadership and involvement throughout this project. I’ve been able to see so much growth in participants and their abilities. It has been cool to see youth transitioning from participants to leaders and facilitators. I can’t wait to see how much growth there will be four years from now.
- It has been so cool to start to see some of the narrative shifts through this work. Youth are often labeled as disengaged or not interested in the community. However, that is far from the truth for most youths. Through this work we have been able to work with local government, community partners, and community members that didn’t work with or have relationship with youth prior to the CBYF work, they’ve been able to see the youth in our community in the new way that challenges some of their notions and views prior to this work.
- I am a planner and a visionary, so I really enjoy this work and having a plan and vision to work towards. I have enjoyed working with the Leadership Table and Tamarack to develop our Plan on a Page, it’s like a road map for this work. I have been able to use a lot of these skills and skills I learned in university. It’s so great to be doing work that I enjoy and am passionate about.
I could go on and on but I will leave it here for now.
Stay tuned for part two of this interview!
Meanwhile, check out Shawnalynn Cromwell’s interview with Morgan, “A Safe Place for Digby’s Youth”