Chris Blackwood – Helping Neighbourhoods Implement Change

What does Helping Neighbourhoods Implement change do?

HNIC provides positive role models and mentorship to youth living in the Rexdale, Weston-Mount Dennis, and Jane & Finch neighbourhoods of Toronto.

How has the SSE program supported you in the development of your enterprise?

SSE taught me that I have to be consistent, productive, and resilient if I want my initiative to be successful. The experience has embedded in my head that in order for me to get support from the SSE community, I will have to “meet them half way” and put in the time and effort to make my initiative successful.

I also found the networking very valuable. For example, I got connected with the Oakdale Golf and Country Club, which is widely recognized as one of the finest clubs in the country. We held our first ever fundraiser there in 2014. HNIC’s connection to the Club came through one of SSE’s guest speakers, Jeff Dennis. When he read my profile, he got interested in what I was doing and he just made the connection. I then had a meeting with the General Manager, Herb Pirk, and Clubhouse Manager, Jermaine Brissett. Jermaine grew up in Jane & Finch, so we had that connection from the jump, and the relationship has been growing ever since.

Why are you passionate about this cause?

We’re trying to put a battery in our youths’ back and find an authentic way to mentor them, to push them for greatness. I know it sounds cliché, but kids are shaped by what they see. I was the same way. I could have had the dope boy life, selling drugs, or I could have been a basketball player.

I wish I had had people bringing me to the golf club when I was younger. It would have been good to meet all these successful people that didn’t take that route. I needed to be shown other ways to be successful.

The feeling the youth get [coming to the club], just looking at their faces, they have a different demeanor after—it changes their mindset. That’s why we have all of our professional development forums there. The club adds another element to all of this beyond us just preaching “you gotta go to school; you gotta respect your family; you gotta find a job after you graduate”. We’re just finding authentic ways of delivering that message.

Who are your beneficiaries and how do they benefit from your service?

We have two gender specific mentorship groups: Gentlemen H.A.T.S. (Having Ability To Switch) and Prettier than Pink. Gentlemen H.A.T.S (Having Ability To Switch), provides our male youth with the ability to switch behaviours, attitudes, and characteristics in different social environments. Prettier Than Pink provides young women with the confidence to strive to be better than the negative stereotypes that society has labelled for females living in at-risk communities. Our youth have been provided with weekly mentoring, monthly professional development workshops, quarterly youth-led events and an annual youth conference.

We’ve had a lot of success with our youth. For example, one of the original HNIC program members was caught up in a risky lifestyle, but thanks to the program he has started his own clothing line that was endorsed by NBA first-draft pick, Anthony Bennett. With the support of HNIC and other community agencies, the line is beginning to gain momentum. This youth is doing his thing. I’m proud of him…we’re very proud of him.

What are your key achievements/ milestones?

Since I graduated, we’ve been running professional development events for up to 300 youth at a time, doing a lot of collaborating with other partners, putting community events together, and helping other agencies run effective programs. We came up with a model called REFEC: Resources, Education, Family, Employment, and Community.  We feel like if programs have those five aspects, they’ll have more impact on the youth in moving them forward in today’s society. We’ve been practicing it and it has been working. We hope to introduce it to the Toronto District School Board.

What would your advice be to a budding social entrepreneur?

Networking is the single most important tool to take your initiative from one level to the next.

If you’ve been inspired by Chris’s story take a look at our courses and see how we can help make your idea a reality.