Diversity grows in the Forest City with multicultural tree plantings

plantingsReForest London and community volunteers celebrated London’s diversity this past weekend with a pair of multicultural and interfaith plantings at Westmount Lions Park, its first back-to-back event of this sort.

Together, the over 150 volunteers managed to plant 850 native trees and shrubs in the park.

“Environmental issues are complex and seem to get bigger every year. If we’re going to have any chance of facing them, it’s going to be by working together,” said Amber Cantell, director of programs at ReForest London. “Seeing Londoners of so many different backgrounds, some of whom have been here all their lives and some who have only just arrived, coming out to work together to help build a greener, more sustainable city is a truly inspiring and heart-warming experience.”

Multicultural plantings on Sept. 24 sprung from a vision to bring together volunteers from the area’s oldest communities (local First Nations) and its newest (recent immigrants and refugees).

These two communities came together to share stories about the importance of trees and the environment in their respective cultures and to work together to undertake the first part of the planting at Westmount Lions Park.

Sharing stories about the importance of trees in the many cultures represented by the volunteers was an important part of the event.

Early on, Heather Hammond of Kettle and Stony Point First Nation (Anishinaabe culture) spoke about a tradition among some First Nations of laying tobacco, considered to be a sacred plant, at the base of trees after they are planted, while a group of three speakers from the London Cross Cultural Learner Centre spoke about the trees in Sudan, Liberia, and Jamaica.

“The Cross Cultural Learner Centre really enjoyed the multicultural tree planting event this past Saturday in partnership with ReForest London and Nokee Kwe,” said Heather Kipp, community network and match facilitator at the London Cross Cultural Learner Centre. “We were happy to work together to better our community.”

Picking up where the Saturday planting left off, Sunday’s fourth annual interfaith tree planting brought together 14 different faith organizations representing many faiths, including Muslim, Jewish, Christian and Wiccan.

Several of the participating faith group leaders had words to share about the importance of trees and caring for the earth in their faiths.

“Our sacred writings begin in a garden and end in a city with gardens throughout,” said Rev. Paul Browning, Christian Leader at Trinity United Church Community Centre. “At a time when Mother Earth is straining under the weight of expanding cities and environmental degradation, planting trees together redeems our city and makes us partners with God, to help fulfill the Divine desire for a healthy, flourishing creation.”

The events were made possible thanks to the financial support of the Government of Canada (through the EcoAction and Inter-Action programs), Literacy Link South Central, the participating faith groups, and the City of London.

All trees planted will be counted towards London’s Million Tree Challenge (www.milliontrees.ca).


Trillium foundation granted volunteer wish to Unity Project

Unity Project celebrated its volunteers on Sept. 23 with an event that included Jason Hastings, Deb Woodhall, Win Kay, Isabelle Hughes, Tiffany King, Loretta Hachey, Jamie Dronyk, Silvia Langer, Taylor Ribble, Patrick Brault and Terri King.

The Unity Project has transformed many lives over the years, but that achievement wouldn’t have been possible without its volunteers and some well utilized government funding.

On Sept. 23, the Unity Project celebrated its more than 100 frontline volunteers who have served in relief of homelessness since 2014.

The organization also noted the impact a two-year, $90,000 grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF) has made in this effort.

Patrick Brault, an OTF program manager, was on hand to bring congratulations from the foundation on what’s been achieved since Unity Project received its grant.

Ontario Deputy Premier and London North Centre MPP Deb Matthews also sent her congratulations.

“I’m proud that our government, through the Ontario Trillium Foundation, is supporting this project to assist people in our community who are struggling to overcome the barriers that come with being homeless,” Matthews said. “The education and labour-market partnerships that the Unity Project is expanding will go a long way in helping many vulnerable people on the next step of their journey.”

The Trillium funding enabled Unity Project — an emergency shelter and transitional housing charity serving men, women and youth — to hire one of its former volunteers to lead the program.

The volunteer program success, according to Unity Project officials, has been achieved through contracted partnerships with career schools, colleges and universities to engage students in frontline placements to fulfill their educational requirements.

“Volunteerism is a life force of the Unity Project,” says Loretta Hachey, Unity Project’s volunteer program co-ordinator. “We are investing in our community through education, while volunteers gain experience with cutting-edge social work practice and gain awareness about self, system and society. It’s transformative.”

Professionalization of the volunteer program improved training and evaluation rigour while increasing the average number of participants on the frontline at any given time from five to 12. It was also designed to enrich the participant experience through fulfilling work.

The volunteer experience was created to help prepare graduates for their future careers, which was certainly the case for five who were hired as frontline support workers, including Terri King.

“As a volunteer, I experienced so many scenarios that were out of my norm. I am grateful for the supervision and support I was given to find my strength and choose this career path,” King saud. “Now, as frontline staff, I really appreciate the work Loretta does and I work to ensure that volunteers enjoy a meaningful experience and hands-on opportunity to contribute to participant outcomes for health and housing.”

Since April 2014, 106 frontline volunteers have been engaged, representing 12,453 volunteer hours and a salary equivalent of $224,154.

Those figures can be doubled when including professional volunteers leading in-house programming, those contributing community service sentencing, and special event volunteers.

The Ontario Trillium Foundation is one of Canada’s largest granting foundations. With a budget of over $136 million, OTF awards grants to some 1,000 projects every year to build healthy and vibrant Ontario communities.

UnLondon, Pillar partnership to spur London innovation

iwLondon’s growing entrepreneurship sector has received another big boost.

On Sept. 20, UnLondon Digital Media Association (UnLondon) and Pillar Nonprofit Network (Pillar) announced an agreement to provide shared space access between 121 Studios, London’s interactive digital media hub and creative co-working space, and Innovation Works, London’s newest co-working space designed for social innovators and offers over 80 co-tenants from all sectors a place to work and collaborate.

“The energy created with this partnership is felt just by walking down King Street. As we bring in more co-tenants in phase two of the project, we are thrilled to provide this expanded offering with UnLondon,” said Michelle Baldwin, executive director, Pillar Nonprofit Network. “Together, we are part of an ever-growing eco-system that is putting London on the map as an entrepreneur’s haven for support, connections and a platform to propel innovation.”

In a media release, UnLondon and Pillar officials agree enabling shared space access will increase the number of resources available, and offer a more comprehensive and supportive environment for London’s growing interactive media, tech, creative and social entrepreneurs.

Pillar Nonprofit Network strengthens the impact of the non-profit sector by connecting the three pillars — non-profit, business and government — to create community impact.

UnLondon supports innovation in the art-make-tech, startup and entrepreneurial communities — in southwestern Ontario and beyond — through facilities, education, and advocacy. Its initiatives include 121 Studios, London’s foremost co-working and digital media production hub, and UnLab, London’s only community maker space.

In addition to cross-membership discounts on events and workshops, the unique elements of each space in particular will now be jointly accessible between organizations.

UnLondon Creative Members will have access to meeting and event spaces at Innovation Works while members of Innovation Works will now have access to production resources and facilities at 121 Studios, including photo and video production space, audio/podcast studio, and multimedia editing suites.

“UnLondon has always been about collaboration and supporting innovation through shared access and driving collective impact,” said Titus Ferguson, executive director, UnLondon. “Through this partnership with Innovation Works and Pillar, we look forward to supporting the next wave of innovation and entrepreneurship in downtown London and across our city.”

Together, UnLondon and Pillar aim to foster greater levels of collaboration to drive creative and social innovation in London and across southwestern Ontario.

City unveils new online tools for London immigrants

LondonThe City of London has launched two new online tools to welcome and attract immigrants to London.

Start London and On the Move: your guide to living in London and Middlesex County, Canada were unveiled in partnership with the London Economic Development Corporation and the Small Business Centre.

“Starting anew isn’t always easy. We want to make the transition to London as seamless as possible and set our new neighbours and friends up for success,” said Mayor Matt Brown. “London is truly a city of entrepreneurs who come from all corners of the world and supports like this will ensure our continued growth across all sectors.”

Start London is a video and online resource guide promoting the benefits for immigrant entrepreneurs looking to establish their business in London. The video is hosted on the London and Middlesex Immigration Portal and is available in six languages.

On the Move is a planning tool for immigrants and international students to settle in London and Middlesex County. The website provides a personalized plan to guide immigrants through the process of moving to London or Middlesex County.

The Government of Ontario provided funding for these projects.

Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Laura Albanese said newcomers not only enrich the diversity of their communities, but they also bring new skills and ideas that help grow local economies.

The minister added that by helping newcomers better integrate into the social and economic fabric of the community London is positioning itself for continued prosperity.

It was a point echoed by Ontario Deputy Premier and London North Centre MPP Deb Matthews.

“I’m proud that our government is investing in supports for newcomers. These two new tools will help them plan their move to London and support them once they get here,” Matthews said. “Immigrant entrepreneurs enrich our culture and help grow our economy and I’m delighted we’re providing them with the supports they need to invest in London. With their input, our city and province will continue to be a vibrant and diverse place to live.”

Hug a tree for National Forest Week, get a tree on National Tree Day

screen-shot-2016-09-19-at-9-33-36-pmTo celebrate and create awareness about the benefits of trees during National Forest Week (Sept. 18-24), ReForest London has launched a creative campaign to inspire Londoners to show their love for trees.

Sept. 19 kicks off National Forest Week celebrations in London with a week of education and awareness of trees and their benefits to us. To encourage Londoners to get engaged, ReForest London has launched a creative campaign that will inspire Londoners to share their love for the Forest City.

Blitzing the trees of Victoria Park downtown and in some parks around London with “Hug Me” signs, the campaign encourages Londoners to stop and take notice of the value and benefits of trees during this important week.

Asking pedestrians to stop, hug a tree, take a photo, and upload it to social media, the campaign is a fun, light-hearted way to remind residents of the importance of trees in our community.

All participants get a free tree to plant in their yards.

In addition to National Forest Week, ReForest London is participating in the annual National Tree Day, Wednesday, Sept. 21.

“National Forest Week and National Tree Day serve as a celebration for all Canadians to appreciate the great benefits trees provide,” said Dean Sheppard, ReForest London executive director. “If any city can truly appreciate trees, it’s the Forest City, and what better way to celebrate trees than to plant new ones?”

To celebrate National Tree Day, Million Tree Challenge Partners and supporters will be giving away free trees or seedlings at 31 public locations across London, including:

  • Scotiabank (all 14 London branches)
  • City of London (five London locations)
  • Western University (three campus locations)
  • Goodwill Industries (six London locations)
  • Peggy Sattler MPP (106-240 Commissioners Rd. W.)
  • ATN/Old East Village Grocer (630 Dundas St.)
  • ReForest London (944 Western Counties Rd.)

For more information on National Forest Week and National Tree Day, with a complete list of locations and times to get a free tree, visit www.reforestlondon.ca.

Community forum demands Londoners take action against racism

Suze Morrison (left),  London Diversity and Race Relations Advisory Committee member, speaks with Mojdeh Cox and Mark Brown prior to London’s Community Forum on Racism.

Before an audience spotlighting the diversity of London, Mayor Matt Brown apologized for systemic racism in the Forest City while committing to work towards action on ending it.

Brown’s statement was made in front of more than 160 people at London’s Community Forum on Racism.

Held Sept. 17 at South London Neighbourhood Resource Centre, the forum was organized by the London Diversity and Race Relations Advisory Committee, in partnership with the mayor’s office.

Shortly after introductory remarks by facilitators Mojdeh Cox and Mark Brown, the mayor welcomed participants and shared his own feelings on the need to eliminate racism.

His comments rang hollow for some in the audience, including Forrest Bivens.

The anti-racism activist demanded the mayor address his own track record, including a failure to take a public stand against police carding and the formation of his anti-poverty panel — a group initially criticized for a lack of diversity representation.

“Sir, your words are incongruous with your actions and your credibility is lacking on this topic,” Bivens said. “You must apologize . . . acknowledge to all Londoners, publicly, that systemic racism and structural racism negatively affects black, brown, indigenous folks well beyond a few high profile street incidents.”

In response, the mayor said when asked to apologize for racism in the community, he “absolutely” should do so.

He went on to say he was in attendance to not only listen and take criticism, but to work towards ending the systemic racism in the Forest City.

“As the leader of this community, as the mayor of the City of London, I do apologize for where we are today. I do acknowledge and I do take responsibility for it,” the mayor said. “I didn’t think that this would be a walk in the park, but I knew the best thing we can do is come together and have this conversation.”

Prior to the forum’s start, Cox said the aim of the day’s discussions was to come to “a common understanding” around racism and then move forward with how to address it.

Mark Brown admitted that may seem a tall order to some, but it isn’t an impossible one.

London is going through changes and “diversity is part of that change,” he said, adding it’s important to recognize that everyone brings something to this ongoing conversation.

“Collectively is where our strength is,” he said. “There have been instances, specific to London, as there are in other cities, but these are challenges that have to be tackled and have to be addressed in order to move forward. We’re intending on putting our foot forward in that direction.”

Cox said one important result from these types of conversations is people gaining the confidence to confront racism wherever they see it.

“We need to call things what they are and come to terms with everything that comes with that — the baggage of all those emotions,” she said. “For the white community to not necessarily take on all the guilt in the world about that, but know this isn’t a few bad apples; this is a collective culture of systemic racism and we need to dismantle that.”

Prior to facilitated table discussions, the forum’s panel with those of lived experience of racism took centre stage.

One panellist, Chief Leslee White-Eye, Chippewas of the Thames First Nation, said prior to the opening remarks that she believes these types of conversations are essential.

Getting people talking is the first part, she said, adding that when people are practiced in discussing racism, when they get confident in dealing with the sensitivity around it, that’s where something positive can begin.

“I think this little endeavour will actually lead to a lot of other little endeavours, which is where I think the change will happen,” she said. “A good question to ask back is who is not here today, and why. It is that kind of stuff we need to dialogue about.”


Western welcomes Alan Alda to Robarts’ Leaders in Innovation Dinner

aldaActor, writer, science advocate, and director are just a few of Alan Alda’s many job titles, but he’ll soon add pinch hitter to his resume.

Due to an unforeseen scheduling conflict, the previously announced Idris Elba is no longer able to attend the 2016 Leaders in Innovation Dinner hosted by Western University’s Robarts Research Institute.

On Thursday, Nov. 10, Alda will step in to join scientists, researchers and community members for this year’s dinner celebrating research excellence in the field of chronic lung disease

“We are thrilled to welcome Alan Alda to London, Ontario,” said Marlys Koschinsky, executive and scientific director at Robarts. “His involvement in this year’s Leaders in Innovation Dinner will bring a new perspective on communicating with the public about the value of science and the groundbreaking work we are doing here.”

Throughout his 40-year career, Alda has won seven Emmys, six Golden Globes, and three DGA awards for directing. He is best known for portraying Hawkeye Pierce on M*A*S*H, which earned him five Emmys for acting, writing, and directing.

Over the span of his career he has been nominated for 33 Emmys for roles that include recent performances in NBC’s 30 Rock, The West Wing, and ER; and on the big screen, he was nominated for an Oscar for his role in The Aviator.

A recipient of the National Science Board’s Public Service Award, Alda is a visiting professor at and founding member of Stony Brook University’s Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, where he helps develop innovative programs on how scientists communicate with the public.

As part of the 2016 Leaders in Innovation Dinner, Alda will share a keynote presentation and take part in an engaging armchair discussion about his life, career and passion for communicating science.

Earlier in the day he will be touring Robarts and will be available to media to answer questions.

The Leaders in Innovation Dinner takes place at the London Convention Centre with CBC News anchor Heather Hiscox serving as master of ceremonies.

Tickets are $250 per person or $2,000 for a table of eight. Tickets can be purchased online at www.robarts.ca/leaders-innovation.