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Irving and Ruth Pink Award for Youth Development and Social Justice presented at Social Justice Soirée

Posted by Jane Doucet on February 11, 2016 in News

Twelve years ago, Dalhousie Legal Aid Service (DLAS) began hosting an annual Legal Masquerade Ball to help raise operational funds. Last year, it decided to mix things up and offer a new fundraising initiative: the Social Justice Soirée.

On January 30, about 75 people attended the evening event at Casino Nova Scotia’s Compass Room, which consisted of a buffet dinner with wine, the presentation of the Irving and Ruth Pink Award for Youth Development and Social Justice, and live music provided by Unidentified Funk Object. Halifax radio personality Peter Harrison hosted the event, and Emma Halpern, the Equity Officer with the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society, gave a keynote on social justice in Nova Scotia.

This year’s event raised about $1,200 to benefit the clinic. Reena Davis, DLAS’s office manager, has been organizing the events since 2008. “Everyone has a good time, and the proceeds are put toward operational costs,” she says. “Although it was a decent turnout of community members, law students, and faculty this year, I’d love to see more people attend and more law firms support us.”

With cuts to all levels of funding becoming commonplace, it has become more difficult to run DLAS with the proper resources. Fundraising events like this one allow DLAS to provide valuable publications such as the Tenants Rights Guide and the Welfare Rights Guide to the community and others who advocate for people living in poverty across the province.

“The fundraising proceeds also allow us to buy new computers and new software with better teaching tools for our students, many of whom say that the clinic is where all of the teachings from the first two years of law school start making sense,” says Davis. “Without fundraising, we can do little more than pay the staff.”

Honouring youth-advocacy community leaders

The highlight of the evening was the presentation of the Irving and Ruth Pink Award for Youth Development and Social Justice. The award, now in its fourth year, celebrates outstanding contributions aimed at supporting youth and advancing issues of youth social justice. This year, there were two co-recipients: DeRico Symonds and the SeaStar Child and Youth Advocacy Centre.

“It’s great to be recognized, but the important thing is that we’ve identified a societal issue – that young people need to be engaged more and be given meaningful employment.”
– DeRico Symonds, Future Roots

Symonds has been working with youth for 12 years, the last four with Phoenix Youth Programs in the community of Mulgrave Park. He has been instrumental in developing several education programs for youth and co-founded a youth-employment social enterprise in Halifax’s North End called Future Roots, which operates out of Veith House. Common Good Solutions, a local enterprise development company, has been integral in Future Roots’s development.

“It’s great to be recognized, but the important thing is that we’ve identified a societal issue – that young people need to be engaged more and be given meaningful employment,” says Symonds. “The younger you involve people in meaningful work, the less chance they’ll be involved in risky behaviours.”

The Future Roots youth who are shovelling snow and raking leaves are encouraged to attend the monthly planning meetings, where they can provide input into programming, scheduling, and budgeting and voice any concerns they might have. “Decisions are often made for youth, but not with them,” says Symonds. “I believe that youth are capable of, and should be, involved in the decision-making processes that affect them.”

The award’s other recipient was the SeaStar Child and Youth Advocacy Centre (CYAC). The medical director of the IWK Child Protection Team and head of the Division of General Pediatrics at Dalhousie, Dr. Amy Ornstein accepted the award on behalf of SeaStar CYAC. She has been a key leader in the vision and development of the Centre, which aims to provide a more co-ordinated, less traumatizing process for children and youth when they disclose abuse.

“It was a huge accomplishment and very validating to receive positive feedback from the community that this work is important.” – Dr. Amy Ornstein, SeaStar CYAC

The program, operating at the IWK Health Centre, is a first step toward the full-service SeaStar CYAC, which is currently in development. Since 2012, the small-scale program has supported 550 children and youth who have disclosed some form of sexual or physical abuse. Dr. Ornstein notes that this represents just a fraction of the eligible cases in HRM alone.

Research shows that children who have suffered abuse are more likely to be arrested for criminal behaviour as juveniles and are less likely to finish high school, and about one-third abuse their own children. SeaStar focuses on putting the youth at the centre of every step of the process and supporting them all the way through.

“When we do this work well, we hope to launch these kids on a different path in life,” says Dr. Ornstein. “We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished so far with limited space and resources, and we look forward to doing so much more as the program expands. It was a huge accomplishment and very validating to receive positive feedback from the community that this work is important.”