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Young female offenders connect to the community through artwork

It’s project go time. The girls of Emerald and Asperity units in the Burnaby Youth Custody Center (BYCC) have created community projects and the projects have turned into innovative initiatives. Their goal is to have their artwork on display by Christmas Day.

I met the girls at 7 pm Wednesday evening during their outdoor time.

Each unit consists of about six to eight girls. My job was to pitch the idea so that everyone wanted to get involved, not just the ones who had been part of the Passion Project to date. With the help of Laura, a child protection worker at BYCC who has been the lead support for the project, we engaged the girls in an open dialogue (on the basketball court of all places).

The aim of the project is to assist the girls in learning critical and creative thinking, project planning and leadership.

The concepts of forgiveness and acceptance have been an underlying theme over the last few weeks. The girls took it one step further this week and came up with a project that I describe as nothing less than powerful.

For me, the best part of this experience was coaching the girls to develop each project. The different teams decided that they would like to contribute one part of the display and then join them together.

From the get-go my message was this: Anything goes as long as it incoporated their ideas, creativity and effort. There were no limitations as long as the project didn't cause issues with the custody center guidelines. The girls took that to heart.

With the helpful words of Laura, child protection worker, and one of the guards, Asperity came up with a six-foot-five recyclable paper-måché woman, painted at the core and covered with black and white photographs collaged over top.

The theme they chose: Raising awareness that self harm and violence can be ended with forgiveness and creating inner peace.

After completing the circle we moved to the Emerald unit at BYCC. There were a lot of new faces but getting them engaged wasn’t too difficult because we had the help of one young woman who has been in the program since the beginning. Her leadership and voice were powerful and she invited the other girls to take part.

Once the discussion got going, others started to join in. This remarkable young woman brought up the idea that girls always want to change themselves. “I’ve always had issues with my body and always see other girls have issues with theirs.”

I asked her if she thought we needed forgiveness or acceptance. My question inspired a whole new discussion about body image and self esteem. Together the girls came up with Beautifully Honoured Women of Originality, a collection of girls and women in all shaped and sizes made of recyclables, yarn, paper-mache and flowers. 

I can’t even begin to explain what it has been like for me to be part of this process. It's not the first time that I have participated but it never gets old and the results are, without doubt, inspirational.

We have the ideas, the plans and the girl power but we missing some assistance. The girls have outlined the supplies but we are short financial support. We also need a place to host the artwork for two weeks over the holidays. The girls have asked me to find an art gallery or community setting where all types of people can come and see their work as well as contribute to it.

I would like to put a challenge out to our community for some small financial or material support. The young women of BYCC would also like to shout out to girls and women who would like to contribute images that we can use on the figures: poetry, small artwork, or photographs that illustrate the want and need for forgiveness and acceptance in all its elements.

We will start construction next week and will be working on it over the next three.

Passion Foundation has set up an online pledge for support. We are already 20% there. For more information please call us directly at 604.395.7685.

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