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Write Your Heart Out: Adapting Evaluation to a Youth Writing Program

Write Your Heart Out - student writing and photos of the students in group.

Write Your Heart Out (WYHO) is a program for youth 11+ that has, to date, run three times out of the Bus Stop Theatre Co-operative. (The third session is in progress now).  It is facilitated and coordinated by a talented and well-known group of writers– Andre Fenton, Meg Hubley and Sue Goyette — and supported by Sebastien LaBelle, the former Executive Director of the Bus Stop Theatre Co-operative. 

The WYHO team connected with Inspiring Communities early in their planning to see if we could provide financial support. The concept for the project was deceptively simple: gather youth and get them writing. The facilitators would offer loose guidance, minimal instruction and on-site support, but basically the team’s goal was to create a container that could hold space for youth to explore, through writing, identity, meaning, and whatever other themes they brought with them through writing.  

This was a perfect small-scale social incubator opportunity. We had an idea that gathering youth together around some kind of artistic or cultural expression could lead to powerful connections and insight, if the container was right. We had explored this in part with our Dartmouth mural project, wherein we created a healing space for friends of Miya Harris to process their grief and loss in a constructive way, by envisioning a public art project and carrying it out. This mural now bears testimony to Miya’s life and legacy, in North Dartmouth.  

The Writing Circle offered a new opportunity to explore how gathering youth for arts-related work could help shift perspectives and build community. We engaged with the WYHO team to talk about the importance of evaluation, especially developmental evaluation. We were less interested in the number of youth attending, and what they produced, than we were in how relationships were being built, in how participants were developing in their understanding of themselves, and what meaning the participants ascribed to the experience.  

When we met with the facilitators in January, they shared how they had thought about what we had presented to them in terms of evaluation, and how they had adapted it to suit the participants and the experience they were hoping to build. Sue described a writing challenge they had issued to the participants: to write a letter to the future.  

In addition, the team had conducted an internal evaluation, and identified important insights like, “the WYHO experience moves away from outcome to better acquaint its practitioners to the longer, durational creative journey they’ve embarked on?” 

They added, 

In the Inspiring Communities theory of change, we describe starting with equity at the centre, building capacity in individuals and groups and creating the conditions for change. In capacity building, we talk about not just building knowledge, skills and ability, but motivation for collaboration, introduction to systems approaches, and providing opportunity. The Write Your Heart Out program does all of this, thanks to relational and people-focused facilitation, an adaptable format, and a touch of the magic that writers bring.  

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