Taking a LEAP with YOCISO youth

Taking a LEAP with YOCISO youth

“The newcomer youth were surprised to see homeless people in Ottawa and they wanted to help.” 

Youth in YOCISO's LEAP program picture #1

Close to 2,000 refugee and immigrant youth in the Ottawa area benefit from YOCISO, the youth programs of the Ottawa Community Immigrant Services Organization (OCISO).

YOCISO’s LEAP program

One of these innovative YOCISO programs is called LEAP: Leadership, Empowerment, Active Participation. The LEAP program takes place in select Ottawa schools at lunch time, empowering newcomer youth through leadership training, team building, communication skills and life lessons.

While incorporating fun and interactive activities, the YOCISO LEAP program has an active participation component that encourages youth to engage in their community by volunteering their time and organizing an event or project.

Youth in YOCISO's LEAP program picture #21

The LEAP program is tailored to the specific needs of the youth at each school, as illustrated in the following two examples from schools in different parts of the city:

Beacon Hill (Henry Munroe Middle School) and Alta Vista (Charles H Hulse Public School).

Youth in YOCISO's LEAP program picture #3

Henry Munroe Middle School

The YOCISO Henry Munroe LEAP Girls Group involved 17 youth girls ranging from 11-14 years of age over a 12-week program. The group focused on providing Arabic-speaking girls a space to share experiences, practice English language skills and build friendships with peers.

The youth girls also received settlement and integration support from YOCISO’s Youth Facilitator (Sinda), and two placement students (Sarah and Malak), who helped empower them in leading a project.

Their project aimed at increasing their sense of belonging and self-confidence within their school by creating opportunities to share their stories.

The youth worked in small groups to create posters featuring their country of origin, or the last country they lived in before arrival to Canada, and a collective poster on their impressions of and experiences in their new home in Canada.

With the support of Henry Munroe’s ESL teacher (Mrs. Barbara Gorman), the youth girls made presentations to 8 different classes and shared details to peers in their school about their culture, clothing, food, language and weather and were excited to see the genuine curiosity of other students.

Although many of the youth were shy and nervous to share their posters and speak English to other students on presentation day, they were pleasantly surprised with their results.

Youth in YOCISO's LEAP program picture #4

Charles H Hulse Public School

The YOCISO Charles H Hulse LEAP Boys Group involved 15 newcomer boys, from 10 to 13 years of age, who were eager to support the homeless in Ottawa. These energetic boys were surprised to see homeless people and after considerable discussion learning how and why homelessness exists, they decided they wanted to help.

This youth group – supported by YOCISO’s Youth Program Facilitator (Daniela), and a volunteer (Abeal) – carried out a canned food and clothing drive to support the Shepherds of Good Hope, a local non-profit dedicated to serving the homeless in Ottawa.

The youth made posters in both English and Arabic, promoting the drive within their school and communities. They collected and gift-wrapped all the clothing items and even the 5 heavy boxes filled with canned food. On the last day of the program, the youth presented the representatives of Shepherds of Good Hope with cards to wish everyone Happy Holidays.

The boys LEAP group not only successfully completed their project, but they also felt a sense of accomplishment and pride in contributing to their community.

They received recognition from their principal, made friendships, and learned leadership skills, healthy boundaries and positive communication skills.


YOCISO’s LEAP program helps youth to build and support healthy identities, to increase a sense of belonging in their school and community, to increase confidence and self-esteem, to foster team building skills and leadership skills development, to set SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely), and to carry out a project.

YOCISO’s LEAP program can create lasting impressions in immigrant and refugee youth that eventually develop into improved sense of self, increased motivation, and academic success.

For more information on the YOCISO LEAP program, please contact:
Christy Etienne
YOCISO Youth Program Coordinator
[email protected]