Empower uses the arts to train diversely situated youth to become HIV peer educators in their local communities. The goals of this project are to:

Increase opportunities for youth engagement, peer education and HIV prevention through the arts.
Increase the capacity of young people (16-29) to play an active role in locally situated HIV prevention and awareness efforts. This includes equipping youth with the necessary skills and resources to become leaders in their own communities.
Strengthen the voluntary HIV and sexual health sectors by bringing youth leaders and front-line organizations together to network, learn and share.
Empower works with a variety of youth communities including street-involved youth, LGTBQ youth, youth of colour, youth who use substances, Aboriginal youth, and youth labeled with intellectual disabilities. By working with youth from different communities, we seek to create a space whereby youth can learn and share from each others’ realities, while simultaneously strengthening youth participation within the voluntary HIV sector. By working with youth newly interested in peer education, as well as youth already engaged in peer education, we seek to build youth capacity at multiple levels.

Empower is a project of Central Toronto Community Health Centres. Please see Our Partners for more info.

Introducing the Empower Project, a short film by Jessica Khouri.

January 17, 2011, Toronto, Ontario — Calling all youth peer educators! This release announces the launch of Empower: An HIV Capacity Building Project for Youth by Youth, a one-year project made possible by a grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation, an agency of the Government of Ontario. Bringing together diverse Toronto youth, Empower will train peer educators to use a community-arts based approach to HIV prevention and other sexual health issues. The project, which will run until December 1, 2011, is a collaboration between Central Toronto Community Health Centres, CATIE, and Gendering Adolescent AIDS Prevention (GAAP).

“Education is a key part of HIV prevention,” says Rosario Marchese, Member of Provincial Parliament for Trinity-Spadina,. “Art is an incredible education medium, that’s why Empower is such a powerful tool within our community. If you can grab people’s attention to engage youth about HIV, then your message will be much more effective. Especially when you use youth educators to convey that message.”

Inspired by the success of “Empower: Youth, Arts, and Activism – An HIV/AIDS Arts Activism Manual for Youth by Youth,” this complementary project will train youth to use art as a tool for social change. Participants will include youth of colour, street-involved youth, lesbian, gay, bisexual, two-spirited, transgender and queer youth, youth living with HIV, and Aboriginal youth. Initially, 10 young people between the ages of 16 and 29, who have shown an interest in HIV issues and community engagement, will be recruited and paired with five peer education mentors. Participants will learn how to use their stories and experiences to create and deliver arts-based workshops and resources to their own communities, and will create digital stories sharing their experiences as HIV peer educators.

As part of our commitment to connecting youth-serving HIV projects, opportunities for networking and knowledge exchange will be coordinated with like-minded programs in the City of Toronto. Aside from the program’s core training initiative, Empower will also work in the following areas:

Community Consultation:

To get feedback on training curriculum and set a plan for ongoing collaboration, we will be hosting a community consultation between youth-serving HIV and sexual health projects in Toronto. This meeting will also be an opportunity for participants and mentors to share creative ideas for arts-based HIV prevention with youth.

Capacity-Building Training and Digital Storytelling:

The eight week-capacity building program will give youth the tools to build skills, make art, and share their digital story. Specific activities will include:

Attending fieldtrips to local organizations (an “Art Bus Tour”)
Participating in community arts, knowledge and skill-based workshops (anti-oppression, HIV/AIDS and sexual health 101, harm reduction, facilitation, photography, theatre etc.)
Creating arts-based community-specific workshops on HIV and sexual health
Creating digital stories on youth engagement and HIV
Showcasing work in a community forum

Get Involved!

Are you a community organization working with youth around HIV? We want to hear from you! For more information about the project, please contact Sarah Switzer, Empower Project Coordinator at 416-703-8480, ext. 143 or by email at sswitzer@ctchc.com. We will be posting application information for participants in February, 2011.

To see what we’ve done in the past, check out our website at http://www.empoweryouth.info or download a copy of Empower: Youth, Arts and Activism through the CATIE ordering centre at http://www.catie.ca.