Recently I had the opportunity to tour iHuman Youth Society with Christopher Weiss. I met Christopher at an Edmonton Community Foundation workshop series; we ended up seated at the same table and over lunch had the opportunity to connect. I had never heard of iHuman until this point; which is crazy considering they have been an integral part of our inner city for over 20 years. Not only did the story and purpose of iHuman intrigue me; the conversation and topics that we dove into were educational and very interesting. Our connection lead to a tour of iHuman and I have to be honest it was far beyond my expectations.
First a little background on iHuman; they were founded in 1997 from a birthplace rooted in the arts. What began completely unexpectedly and by chance has grown into an organization that develops and provides support programs solely to youth using various forms of artistic expression as the tool of engagement.
I’ll be honest, pulling up to the location in inner city downtown Edmonton, I felt a little out of my element; but the unique street design of 96 Street and 102 Ave certainly caught me off guard in a great way and reminded me of the gems in this city I simply haven’t yet discovered. With that I opened my mind to the experience I was about to undertake.
I walked into this white building, quite unassuming from the outside, although with beautiful graffiti art on the east side of the building, and was greeted by the intake staff. The friendly faces at the front desk do an initial and high level assessment of the youth that enter the facility. Are there any critical needs that they need immediately met (think basic needs for survival); they get a little history on the person and what brought them there, and after the assessment if they meet the criteria they can take part in the iHuman programming.
I was taken up to the second floor of the building where the administration offices are housed and this is where my tour with Christopher began. Christopher educated me on the history of iHuman, the values, challenges, demographic of the youth, and their goals. Each part of my tour further warmed my heart and blew my mind; what iHuman provides to the marginalized youth who enter their building has the potential to be nothing short of life changing. As I mentioned earlier art is the at the foundation of this organization; many of the youth that come to iHuman have never had a voice before, to clarify; have never had their voice heard
The work displayed in the art room is incredibly impressive; I have no painting prowess so to see what some of these youth have created is unreal; they are beautiful and often emotional pieces. Once they create their piece they can do with it as they wish; it can be displayed; used as a piece in an iHuman art exhibit, taken home, given away, and for some they create and destroy it. There is no judgement; it’s whatever choice the person feels is fitting for the artistic expression they have put forward.
The performing arts studio is legit, I can see why the youth who enter it take pride and ownership of the area. It is where the youth who are interested in acting are currently preparing for performances at the Interstellar Rodeo; as well as at the Edmonton International Fringe Festival this summer. In this same studio they do rap battles and learn hip hop from one of iHuman’s social workers. I can only imagine the energy in this room when these battles are happening!
The music studio is everything from an area to jam to an actual recording studio where staff work to teach youth how to produce, perform, record, and support one another. They have some big plans and with the support of the community and the talent they have within I have no doubt they will achieve it all!
The fashion studio is beautiful! The director of this area is a creative who works with the youth to bring their designs to life or provide them with the guidance and basics to pursue their dream of fashion. The walls are covered with what could be the iHuman fashion room portfolio of models and designs. The unique creations are also on display and clearly show the talent of the youth that use fashion design as their outlet.
Heading back downstairs I was introduced to “Woven Journey”; which is the family room, a place for moms and their children to go. Woven Journey provides these women a place to build community, gain skills in parenting, enjoy a meal with their children and friends, and get those crucial needs such as diaper. The community and connection this program creates for the women is so incredibly important; being a mom is one of the hardest jobs in the world even with the support of family and friends, so for these women who don’t have that support network to begin with; Woven Journey can be a lifeline.
I’m going to call it how it is; I have always been blessed in living a very comfortable life with two loving and supportive parents, a sister who is also my best friend, and now that I’m older a husband who loves and supports me, a healthy and happy son who we are able to give a lot of opportunities to, and a group of friends who I am so lucky to have and I know have my back all the time. With this blessed life the struggles that so many others in not just the world, but our very own community of Edmonton face, are pretty much incomprehensible. During the tour Christopher told me that many of these youth are fighting to survive minute to minute of each day, which is a reality I have thankfully never known.
I honestly feel it is our moral responsibility to not just turn a blind eye and live in ignorant bliss in our own world; we need to educate ourselves, our families, friends, and networks about the reality of what is happening in our community and all of the organizations that do so much to keep so many people alive. I believe that as humans when we know better we do better and with that, please take the initiative to educate yourselves; ask questions, dig deeper, take an hour out of your day to connect with our local agencies and organizations and see how you can make a difference.