When the COVID-19 shutdown closed schools, offices and public spaces, we asked ourselves one question: how can we be most useful to children and families during this difficult time? Together, our team developed a North Star to guide all programming decisions throughout the crisis. We dedicated ourselves to coming up with innovative and collaborative solutions and supports to help protect and nurture the emotional and social wellbeing of young people in under-resourced communities. Our rationale was simple: if we could create spaces where children and youth felt heard and had the opportunity to connect with supportive adults and peers and creatively express themselves, we could prevent them from needing to seek more intensive support later on, or if they were already at a crisis point, we could connect them to mental health professional services.

With our intent set, we moved quickly to design and pivot programming to meet the diverse needs and conditions of young people.

We moved core programs to an online delivery model, working with participants and their families to ensure equitable access. Using this model, we expanded our student reach, serving students in regions all over Canada. We created warm, affirming and fun spaces for young people through twice weekly sessions and summer camps – sending participants supply kits to ensure their full participation.

The digital divide made online programming impossible for many young people, especially those living in shelters or facing severe financial barriers. We knew those children and families could not be left out of our COVID-19 response. To reach them, we created our DAREarts Creativity Kits Initiative. Centered on wellness and self- expression, we designed these kits to include 12 weeks of art-based activities along with all the needed supplies and an invitation to reach out to our team by phone for support. We partnered with family and youth shelters, social service agencies and First Nations communities to distribute more than 475 kits over the spring and summer and prepared to distribute hundreds more throughout our next programming year.

None of this would be possible without the trust and support of our incredible partners. Across the board, our funders were just as committed to the wellbeing of young people during this crisis and they overwhelmed us with their support, both through supporting our DARETogether giving campaign financially and volunteering their time and talent as volunteer delivery drivers, online program mentors and relationship builders.

This year, our network of supporters proved that nothing, absolutely nothing, would prevent them from making sure young people across the country knew they had an entire community in their corner, cheering them on.

Volunteer Spotlight

Scotiabank’s Digital Factory

We were thrilled to work with Scotia’s Toronto Digital Factory team this year. They generously volunteered their time to help us build internal solutions and provide our students with an incredible mentor-led learning experience. Here are just two of the projects they gave their time and talent to this year.

DAREarts Online Alumni Hub

For over 24 years, we’ve been working with young people across the country to build brighter futures for themselves and their communities. We have thousands of DAREarts alumni all over the country and we’ve always wanted a way to connect with them after they graduate from our programs. We brought this hope to our friends at Scotiabank and together we came up with a plan. Working with a team of incredible designers at Scotiabank Digital Factory, we built an online alumni hub where former students could connect with us and each other to share their progress, ask questions and find ways to give back and stay engaged with DAREarts. The volunteer team from Scotia brought their incredible talent and energy to the project, walking us through a design process that helped us define our goals and create a platform that could grow with us. Tireless in their commitment, they worked with us through multiple reviews and revisions, always bringing their keen insight and generosity to the table. We’re so excited to launch our new Alumni Hub in 2021 – stay tuned for further details.

Introducing Design-Based Thinking to Our Students

Empowering our students to use creative problem solving when they face challenges in their lives is an essential part of our work. This year, the Digital Factory team gave our students the chance to bring these skills to the next level through designing and leading a hands-on session on design-based thinking. Using creative tools, a team of mentors walked our students through a new way to look at problems and design solutions using empathy and deep understanding. Hosted in their incredible King St. office, the session was all the more memorable as it included a fantastic opportunity to experience working in one of the coolest working spaces in the city. Our students and staff team got so much out of the session that its become a core part of our curriculum in our youth programs.