Led by Community Mentor Chuck Hill, the PLAY program in Six Nations, Ontario is focused on building leadership skills in youth, primarily through event planning and hosting. Youth lead events that aim to enhance the sense of connection within the community and among themselves. One such event was the Halloween Dance hosted in October, which saw a turnout of 200 people!

Erin Hill, fondly called Chuck, has been a Community Mentor with Right To Play for 3 years, with 8 years’ experience working with youth. Erin Gulley is 24 years old and works with Chuck as the Child & Youth worker at Six Nations Health Services.

Youth participants Erick Martin (age 15, Cayuga Nation), Kayne Martin (age 15, Cayuga Nation), Sierra Green (age 15, Mohawk Nation), Marcus Johnson (age 17, Mohawk Nation) and Jackson House (age 17, Cayuga Nation) shared a bit about their community, the event and their experiences in the PLAY program.

Tell me about your community, Six Nations.

Erick: Six Nations reservation is located 30 minutes away from Brantford and near Caledonia.

Kayne: I would describe our community as somewhere where people can take chances to try to make a difference.

Sierra: A hope for the future of my community is for the community to be connected again. Sometimes there are not many people as connected as they used to be […] and I think it’s important for everybody to be connected again. By having our events, we bring our community together to have a good time and make them feel connected in a way.

Tell me about the PLAY program in Six Nations.

Erick: We do various activities like swimming, plan events in the community and plan trips for our group. Some of the events we’ve planned in the community were a bake sale, some movie nights, dances and a game night.

Kayne: One of my favourite memories from program would be the Valentine’s Dance we held about a year and a half ago […] because that’s where I met a lot of my friends who come to the Right To Play program with me, and it was just really fun.

Tell me about the Halloween Dance you planned and led in October.

Erin: The Halloween Dance has actually been an annual event in the community for about 6 years, and it has been about 3 years now that the youth have been helping with the dance.

Jackson: We’ve been helping more over the years. The last three years, we took over the dance and hosted it ourselves.

What were the goals of the Halloween Dance event and what kinds of activities did you plan for it?

Sierra: The goals for our event here was to have a good turnout and just for everyone to have fun. […] We had a photo booth, a dance contest, a costume contest. We had almost 200 people come out – families in the community. This was already an annual event so we wanted the guests to be happy and have a good time with their families.

What were some of the responsibilities involved in planning and leading this event?

Jackson: We had to book the community hall for this event, prepare a flyer to put up around the community, send a letter to the police for donation of door prizes.

Sierra: We had some MCs, some of the guys patrolling around the community hall to make sure everything was going good. Some people to hand out the food, and then some people to keep the attendance.

What were some of the successes and challenges of the event?

Sierra: Some of the successes of this event was the turnout. We had very great turnout this year. And the planning process, it went pretty good. One of the challenges we encountered is we didn’t really have a schedule for all the activities we had, so that’s what we kind of want to change for next time.

How has being involved in the PLAY program and planning events impacted you?

Erick: Changes I see in myself after participating in the Right To Play program is that I’m more open in group discussions than I was before. It extends outside the program [to] school. I never really was big on group projects and I would always work alone. [The program] allowed me to talk with people I’m comfortable with, kind of stepping me out of my comfort zone.

Kayne: I would say that I’m more confident in myself and my ideas and I don’t close myself off during [program] anymore.

Sierra: I’m putting myself out there more, like my ideas […] and being more involved with the community. When I went to the [Right To Play] Youth Symposium [in May] this year, I was able to MC their talent show. So just being more outgoing and confident.

Jackson: I find myself more involved in the community events in and outside of group, more of a leader in myself, if that makes sense. It’s expanded to outside of group to home, school and just things I do on my free time.

What are your hopes for the future of the PLAY program?

Kayne: My plans for the future of the PLAY program will be that more people will join and be comfortable enough to stay and get to know us better.

Jackson: [I hope to] have more participants, to be open to new ideas [about] the events we do and things that other youth would like to see.

As the Community Mentor, do you have anything to say about the youth?

Chuck (CM): I just want to mention just how far these youth have come over the past 3, 4 years. Some of the changes that I’ve seen in the youth is that they are able to express themselves more whether it be their feelings or just their ideas for fundraisers. Their public speaking skills and their confidence in themselves has also improved. […] They are accomplishing quite a bit within their communities. They might not think it, but they are and they have become good leaders, good role models.