A student participant in a community-building program at Hart House now works at the House and encourages others to get involved. This exceptional program, for which the application process typically begins in early April, reduces barriers to youth employment.

This is a story about youth, community and giving back.

Immaculate Adarkwa, a 19-year-old behavioural psychology student at Seneca Polytechnic, is a passionate advocate for youth access programming with a focus on impactful initiatives and activities. Committed to fostering positive change, she is involved in the planning and execution of events to empower and support the youth community.

Immaculate Adarkwa

Immaculate began her relationship with Hart House as a youth participant of the Community Access & Outreach team's Group Fitness Mentorship Program (GFMP), a paid-to-learn work readiness pathway program that connects youth with experienced mentors at the Hart House Fitness Centre and trains the youth to become certified group fitness instructors. Immaculate learned about the program through the House’s partners at The Kickback, where she participated in basketball clinics. She is also a Varsity basketball player.

Senior Director, Co-Curricular Education and Chief Program Officer Michelle Brownrigg explains what makes GFMP so special: “This Program seeks to reduce barriers to youth employment by providing a comprehensive learning opportunity that results in certification. Participants receive a $700 stipend upon completing the 40-hour program for youth who would otherwise have to choose between a work shift and learning. We intentionally outreach to BIPOC youth to change the landscape of who is traditionally seen as a fitness instructor.

“Our Community Access programs place an emphasis on the continued growth and development of our participants through supports and community building. Immaculate continues to keep in touch with fellow youth participants, her KPE student mentor, Hart House Fitness Centre and Community Access staff; and is making use of her networks to fortify both Hart House's and her own community programs,” Michelle adds.

‘Graduation’ from the program involves successfully passing group fitness exams and then being certified by the Ontario Fitness Council. Further, the Community Access & Outreach team helps grads explore opportunities to continue practicing and professionalizing their skills.

Participants Gain Experience and Know-How

Immaculate loved the program, which she describes as very engaging. She appreciated the format: “The group would arrive around 9 am. Fitness & Wellness Advisor H. R. Martin Phills or Fitness & Wellness Instructor Dylan Johnson would lead us. As mentor/facilitators, they would talk about different muscles and present the many ways you can lead a group fitness exercise.  

“The mornings were the practical aspect of the program, and the afternoons were the theoretical   aspect. We had textbooks. Our mentor, a fourth-year kinesiology student, would go through the textbook with us and answer any questions. We took quizzes to make sure we were learning what we needed to know.”

This program outreaches to BIPOC youth to change the landscape of who is traditionally seen as a fitness instructor.

Martin and Dylan as well as Rebeckah Price, a wellness advocate and yoga instructor, were outstanding, Immaculate says. “They were always willing to help us. When you're running programs like these, whether you're the facilitator or the participant, there's always aspects to where you need to help another person out, to see that things succeed. That was my take-away lesson: Communicating as a participant so you can succeed, then communicating well as the facilitator. This sometimes means going above and beyond your job so that your participants can succeed.”

There was also a practical and a written exam. Surprisingly, her favorite part was the testing!  

Immaculate gained some key experience and know-how from the program, mainly around how to start and sustain her own community initiatives. Today, she uses her strengthened skills to deliver basketball programming for young Black girls in Ghana and in the Greater Toronto Area.  

Hart House’s Youth Access Program Outreach Department

After earning the GFMP certification, Immaculate applied to a casual student staff USW position with the Community Access team to support Hart House’s youth programming. She got the job and is now working at the House for the Winter 2024 term.

Here, she works with Manager, Community Access & Outreach Danielle Dinunzio and Program Associate, Community Access & Outreach Alphonse Daniel and enjoys a wide variety of tasks. “I help where the help is needed. I have done some of the KPE programs and some of the different community school programs … So, for me, no one workday is the same.”

The House Brings Sense of Belonging

“Hart House means community,” Immaculate says. “When I first came, I thought of it as just another program. But Alphonse, Martin and Danielle changed my thinking. They always reached out. Even when you've graduated from your program, you're still involved. They’re always looking for ways to get you to come back.”

Favorite Memory: Hart House Farm

The March Break trip to Hart House Farm is her favourite memory. “We took students from different schools in the GTA, and we did many activities. We learned about Indigenous culture and different universal cultures. We played Indigenous games. Honestly, it was an amazing day!”

She particularly enjoyed working with high school kids. “I am a very community-oriented person, so for me, it was nice to be able to talk to the youth. You know, sometimes they needed advice.” Since she played on the Varsity basketball team, she often provided guidance on this subject of collegiate-level basketball.

Inspires Other Students to Get Involved

Immaculate encourages students to apply to the program. “All community programs are a benefit in my opinion. I use my own experience as a testament to how beneficial these programs are.” In fact, she is currently encouraging her sister to go through the program.

“It's not only that you're receiving a certificate at the end … You’re also gaining a community,” she concludes.

Youth interested in the GFMP, take note: The program is now (early April 2024) open for applications with a start date in early July, then running through August. 

Immaculate encourages high school students to connect to Hart House through the Youth Discord server, where job postings, events and resources are posted.