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Partnership between college, YMCA aims to tackle 'belonging' and purpose

Community Innovation Network a first-of-its-kind initiative in the region, with data to be used to help understand how to build a community where everybody feels they belong

Georgian College and the YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka are planning to work together in their efforts of reshaping community engagement and innovation.

The new partnership was announced Wednesday during the Research, Innovation, Scholarship and Entrepreneurship Symposium at the college, during which the two organizations revealed plans to co-create what they are calling a Community Innovation Network — an initiative they say is a first-of-its-kind in the region.

Together, Georgian College and the YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka, along with other interested community organizations, aim to participate in a Future of Belonging lab in which the group will “explore how various community services will maintain relevance into the future, as well as how they can collaborate to cause change and bring agency to underrepresented groups,” they said in a joint release.

“It means that we get to start looking at belonging in our community,” Jill Tettmann, chief executive officer for the YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka, told BarrieToday at the event.

“Belonging is a big part of the Y — people come to the Y to belong — so we are doing some research with Georgian to understand what they need,” she added.

That sense of belonging and purpose, and coming together, is important to Tettmann and the YMCA, as is understanding how to build a community where everybody feels they belong.

The pairing allows Georgian College to undertake the research part of the exercise, while the YMCA works on the practical part of it.

“We get to try it out, we get to use it, and play with the tools, and they get to use the data and analyze it, and then together we will start to understand,” she added.

Together, they describe it as a community innovation network, where all communities can come together, have the physical space to talk about innovation and creative ideas, and how the community can work together better.

“One of the conversations we are having today is we are looking at equity-deserving populations, such as newcomers to Canada, as well as international students that come to Canada to learn — understanding how they feel, that they belong, and what are the things that need to be put in place for their sense of belonging,” Tettmann said.

Nicole Norris, director of social innovation at Georgian College, is “over the moon” working on this project.

“This is a passion for me, making sure communities have resources to move forward their ideas,” she said.

“This is a community-based research project where we bring together individuals so that we can work along with them to understand how systems in the community are helping, and affecting them, and how we might use that to design new types of policies and engage in new types of community infrastructure.”

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About the Author: Kevin Lamb

Kevin Lamb picked up a camera in 2000 and by 2005 was freelancing for the Barrie Examiner newspaper until its closure in 2017. He is an award-winning photojournalist, with his work having been seen in many news outlets across Canada and internationally
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