Local woman hopes to inspire active citizenship in youth

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Tilbury Ph. D. student Melissa Sharpe-Harrigan is hoping the Our Canada Project she and 25 other youths developed in partnership with Learning For a Sustainable Future, draws interest from the Chatham-Kent community, inspiring others to take part in active citizenship.
Tilbury Ph. D. student Melissa Sharpe-Harrigan is hoping the Our Canada Project she and 25 other youths developed in partnership with Learning For a Sustainable Future, draws interest from the Chatham-Kent community, inspiring others to take part in active citizenship.

Canadians may not be known for boasting about their accomplishments, but Melissa Sharpe-Harrigan is hoping that changes.

Harrigan, a Ph.D. student from Tilbury, along with 24 other young adults spent three days in Toronto last year trying to determine what would be the best way to promote active citizenship among youth.

The group, in collaboration with Learning For a Sustainable Future, came up with the Our Canada Project, a nationwide initiative where people across the nation use a website to share what they are doing on an interactive map of Canada.

baCK-video-30sec from Chatham Voice on Vimeo.

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In charge of the Southern Ontario area, Harrigan says this is an opportunity to not only share what a difference a simple act such as volunteering can make, but inspire others to do the same.

The website, launched live in October, allows visitors to tag their good deed’s location on a map and submit the action’s information or photos into one of four categories; cultural, environmental, economical or social.

“This initiative challenges youth who may or may not be in school at any point in their lives to engage them to become more active citizens in their community,” said Sharpe-Harrigan.

Those who document their act are then linked into a network of others who are active and able to connect to finding funding resource opportunities.

Examples of actions posted on the map to date include schools building gardens and reducing waste.

Harrigan says people who may think their action may not qualify or is too small should think again.

“For me, an active citizen is someone who looks beyond their own needs to make their community a better place,” said Sharpe-Harrigan.

“It takes less than five minutes to post what you’re doing on the website and that post could motivate Canadian youth to take the time to do the same thing,” she added.

Leaving the definition of who is a youth and can participate in the platform open is something that was intentionally done.

“The idea is that if you affiliate yourself as being a young person, then that’s good enough. We don’t want to exclude anybody,” said Sharpe-Harrigan.

With larger cities like Toronto and Montreal receiving media attention for positive acts, Sharpe-Harrigan says this project is a chance for places like Chatham to receive recognition.

“It’s a really good opportunity for people in Chatham-Kent to showcase what they are doing in a small community,” she added.

For more information, visit www.ourcanadaproject.ca to learn more.

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