Posted by Dick Hodgson on Nov 27, 2018
The project had its origins in a discussion at the 2017 District 7820 Conference in Wolfville NS.  At a breakout discussion on youth, chaired by District Youth Chair Michael Craig, it was recognized that the vast majority of current Rotary programs in support of youth were directed at high-performers.  Out of this discussion was born the idea of developing a project that would provide developmental opportunities for youth drawn from economically challenged communities, or other demanding circumstances. 
Discussions were held with Phoenix Youth Programs, a non-profit, community based organization located in Halifax, which is dedicated to supporting youth, their families and communities.  The product of those discussions over several months was a proposal for a ‘leadership development’ trip to Ottawa.  The objective of this trip was to provide a ‘transformational’ experience for up to twelve youth. The basic concept for the project was to plan, develop, execute and subsequently review a five-day trip to Ottawa and in so doing, provide an opportunity for the group to visit the nation's historic centres and witness the main national and governmental institutions.  This proposal would enable the youth to experience the exhilaration of travelling to a new and unfamiliar place in which to discover themselves and develop more self-awareness, leading to enhanced self-confidence and self-esteem.  Learning to navigate challenges outside their familiar setting and support network would also lead to personal growth and enhanced maturity and poise.  It was hoped that it would also provide an opportunity to learn how to make choices, deal with problems head-on as they arose, and acquire new social skills as they engaged and interacted with people and communities that were unfamiliar to them. 
While the eventual objective was to develop a project that could be replicated elsewhere in the District, in this instance it was seen as a first trial step, to develop the concept in a large urban area where there was a high concentration of youth experiencing challenging circumstances, and also a high degree of expertise in providing much needed support.  Hence the choice of Halifax as an appropriate focus, and Phoenix Youth Programs as an institution with an impressive record of providing support to challenged youth over the past 30 years.
To allow for the necessary preparation and planning August 20-25 was selected as the proposed date for the trip.  This also allowed time for the selection of the participants, as well as four Phoenix chaperones.  The planning process included review and application of Rotary's and Phoenix's rigorous youth protection measures and policies, and of course parental consent.  To enhance the value of the experience for participating youth, it was arranged for them to play a key role in the detailed planning of the trip, and selection of visits and activities.
Rotary project leaders contacted Ottawa Rotary Clubs principally through the Rotary Club of Ottawa, (not least because that Club organizes the Adventure in Citizenship program), in order to seek assistance and advice in putting together the detailed program in Ottawa.  Out of this came a number of visit suggestions that included an opportunity to meet astronaut Chris Hadfield.  The trip also included visits to the National Gallery of Canada, The Canadian Museum of Nature, Vintage Wings of Canada, The Canadian Mint, Changing of the Guard, House of Parliament Northern Lights show, the Haunted Walks, and of course the Calypso Water Park!
The clear conclusion among the youth who participated, the chaperones who accompanied them, and Phoenix senior management was that the trip was an outstanding success.  The youth had clearly enjoyed a transformational experience, and in so doing, had developed strong interrelationships with each other, and each built up their personal self-esteem and self-confidence. As a conclusion to the project, and as an important element in its ‘leadership development’ dimension, it was arranged for the party to deliver a presentation about the trip to an audience made up principally of Rotarians.  It was a quite powerful and emotional event and many in the audience were quite moved by the stories told as the youth made their presentations.
~ Submitted by Dick Hodgson & Michael Craig