CANVAS Art Action Programs

CANVAS Arts Action Programs is a non-profit dedicated to creating more inclusive communities for folks of all genders and sexual orientations. CANVAS provides education on gender, sexuality, and consent to schools, communities and camps in order to combat sexual violence, homophobia and transphobia.

Location: Toronto


No description provided.
Inclusive Communities: Camp Staff Training Program


CANVAS’ Inclusive Communities: Camp Staff Training Program works with Jewish summer camps in Ontario and Quebec to create more inclusive camp communities, where campers and staff of all identities feel a sense of safety and belonging. The program provides vital training for camp staff on LGBTQ+ inclusion and consent, ensuring that no young person becomes disengaged from their camp and, more broadly, their Jewish community, because they did not feel safe or included. By investing in Inclusive Communities, Natan will be helping to create a culture of consent and allyship in Jewish community spaces.

Launched in spring 2015, we have run the program with ten Jewish summer camps in Ontario and Quebec, reaching approximately 2500 camp staff (ages 17-25) over the last three years. Each year, demand for the program has risen, and this summer we are hoping to increase our reach to 12 camps, bringing this important program to an even broader Jewish audience within Ontario and Quebec.

The Inclusive Communities workshop is 2-hours in length, with a flexible structure that allows camps to select the topic and issues they feel are most relevant to their community. When camps book the workshop, they will select either LGBTQ+ inclusion or consent (or both) for their program focus. Then, our program coordinator works with the camps to identify pertinent issues and develop scenarios that are relevant to issues occuring at the camp. The programs are focused around challenging rape culture, transphobia, homophobia, and sexism, all within the context of a Jewish environment. Many camps choose to incorporate the program into their staff training each year, in order to support long-term change within their community.

The programs follow a 3-part structure:

  1. Perspectives - Each program begins with an interactive activity where participants share perspectives about their camp culture. We support staff to talk openly about topics that are not normally discussed. By bringing subjects like gender stereotypes, homophobia/transphobia, and sexual pressures into the open, we create an environment where staff can begin to consider where these issues come from and collaboratively brainstorm solutions.
  2. Understanding - Participants learn fundamentals for consent and/or LGBTQ+ identities and inclusion, with an opportunity to ask questions, learn new concepts, and share their own knowledge.
  3. Put into Practice - Participants put their learning into practice by exploring scenarios that may arise in a camp environment and brainstorming a variety of solutions with facilitator support. By the end of each session, participants have identified specific issues they face in their camp and have brainstormed concrete strategies and solutions they can realistically put into practice, both individually and as a community, over the coming summer.

By supporting camps to have open conversations about gender, sexuality, and consent, and providing their staff with concrete tools to address homophobia, transphobia, and sexual pressures that may be impacting campers and/or staff, our mission is to provide Jewish spaces with the knowledge and understanding to support all youth. Rather than addressing gender, sexuality, and consent as isolated issues, we support camps to address them within a Jewish context. We know that young people who do not feel safe or valued within their community are more likely to become disengaged. Through the Inclusive Communities program, our mission is to ensure to no young person feels unsafe or excluded from their community, and that each young person knows their identity and voice are valued.

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What is the mission and purpose of this program?

Through the Inclusive Communities program, CANVAS’ mission is to create a culture of consent and allyship within Jewish summer camps, and more broadly, the Jewish community as a whole. Each time a young person experiences homophobia, transphobia, sexual pressures or sexual assault within a Jewish space, they are not only likely to leave that specific space, but are at risk of becoming disengaged from the Jewish community as a whole. With the Inclusive Communities program, we are dedicated to addressing this problem before it begins; by working with camps to proactively learn about LGBTQ+ inclusion and consent, assess issues impacting their spaces, and implement strategies for change, we are creating a Jewish community where every young person feels safe and welcomed.

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Program Description

CANVAS’ Inclusive Communities: Camp Staff Training Program works directly with Jewish summer camps in Ontario and Quebec to address issues of homophobia, transphobia, sexism, and sexual pressures, with the goal of creating more inclusive camp communities. The 2-hour training program has a flexible model, which is adapted to the individual needs of each camp.

First, camps select the topic(s) they would like their program to address, choosing from the following options:

  1. LGBTQ+ inclusion
  • Critically examine norms of masculinity and femininity among campers and staff at different ages
  • Promote acceptance and understanding of LGBTQ+ identities, by learning proper terminology and hearing first-hand stories from LGBTQ+ Jewish youth.
  • Develop and practice strategies for dealing with campers who may come out or are bullied for their gender or sexual identity/expression.
  • Create innovative ways to strengthen the camp community as a space free from homophobia and transphobia.
  1. Consent & Healthy Relationships
  • Collaboratively define consent and critically examine sexual pressures faced by campers and staff members.
  • Deconstruct common myths related to sexual activity and learn effective communication skills to develop healthy and safe relationships.
  • Develop and practice strategies for dealing with situations where staff experience or observe sexual pressures, inappropriate sexual comments and behaviour.
  • Build a strong culture of consent among campers and staff members.

The program takes an interactive approach, encouraging camp staff to reflect on and share their perspectives of issues that may be occuring in their camp, and then work together to creatively brainstorm solutions. Staff work through scenarios designed in collaboration with camp directors to address specific issues that impact the camp; for example, scenarios might include supporting a trans camper who is transitioning at camp, addressing sexual pressures and negative gossip amongst campers, and teaching young campers about body ownership. By working with camp directors and head staff prior to running the training, we ensure that our programs address the unique culture and community of each camp.

This program is a vital step in creating Jewish spaces where all youth feel connected and supported. The program’s beneficiaries are staff, campers, as well as the broader Jewish community. To date, we have worked with summer camps affiliated with the conservative and reform movements, including URJ Camp George, Camp Northland, Camp B’nai Brith Ottawa, Camp Solelim, Camp Kinneret-Biluim, Camp Shalom, Camp Shomria, and Camp Ramah.

Staff learn important and transferable skills in inclusion, while working to build communities where more campers feel engaged, safe, and connected. On a broader scale, we believe that it is vital to create inclusive spaces for youth if we are to help young people maintain a long-term engagement with the Jewish community. While rates of synagogue and Jewish day school enrollments are falling, and many communities are struggling to engage young people, Jewish summer camps have become a vital space for Jewish youth to connect with their community, culture and religion. However, when young people feel ostracized from these spaces, whether due to gender, sexual orientation, body pressures, or sexual pressures, they are more likely to become disengaged from the Jewish community as a whole. By creating fun, vibrant spaces where youth of all identities feel welcome, we are working to ensure that each young person can find a Jewish space where they feel connected.

As staff who participated in the training in summer 2017 said:

“I think [the program] helps people understand the importance of acceptance and understanding that it's okay to be themselves” - Staff member, Camp Shalom

“It is so important for staff to understand how to support campers who feel ‘different’ from their peers.” - Staff member, Camp Northland

“[The program] allowed us to have conversations we wouldn't normally have by encouraging open discussion.” - Staff member, Camp Kineret Biluim

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Demonstrated Need

Synagogue membership and enrollment rates at Jewish day schools in Ontario and Quebec are falling, and many communities are struggling to find new ways to engage young people within their local Jewish communities (“Effective Strategies for Educating and Engaging Jewish Teens,” by The Jim Joseph Foundation). At the same time, enrollment in reform and conservative camps is growing every year and youth-centred spaces like summer camp are becoming increasingly important arenas for young people to make meaningful connections with their Jewish community (Understanding and Engaging Jewish Teens Today, The Jewish Education Project). We know that when young people form strong connections with Jewish community groups they are more likely to make Jewish culture, religion, and community part of their lives as adults.

To support positive engagement with Jewish community spaces, it is vital that we ensure those spaces are safe and inclusive for youth of all genders and identities. Youth at summer camp (including both campers and staff) are at an age where they are exploring gender and sexuality. Some youth may be questioning their gender identity or sexual orientation. Others may be experiencing sexual pressures, and many young people begin experimenting sexually while at camp. Although this can be a healthy part of development, there is also added risk of negative experiences occurring, especially in contexts where youth don’t feel comfortable discussing sexuality and/or don’t have a good understanding of consent.

Over the last three years, we have worked with over 2500 staff members at Jewish camps in Ontario and Quebec. Every camp we have worked with reported challenges or incidents related to gender, sexuality and consent: Camps shared stories of campers and staff who have left because they didn’t feel comfortable being “out” about their gender identity or sexual orientation. Some camps had trans campers or staff and were considering the best ways to create an inclusive environment. Others were having ongoing issues amongst their older campers with “slut shaming,” and campers were being bullied and gossiped about after being pressured to take part in sexual activities. A few camps, either currently or in past years, were struggling to deal with reports of sexual assault occurring amongst their staff. In each case, campers or staff who faced negative attitudes or experiences related to gender, sexuality, and consent were more likely to leave the camp and cut ties with the community.

In many cases, the young people who leave their camps due to a sexual assault or to feeling their sexual orientation or gender identity was not valued, have trouble connecting with their local Jewish community in the future and are at risk of becoming disengaged. Rather than isolated incidents, each of these situations reflects a broader pattern where young people are becoming disengaged from their Jewish community because they did not feel safe, included, or like their voices mattered.

In conversations with camp directors, many expressed concerns over how to support trans campers, how to create a feeling of inclusion for LGBTQ+ campers and staff in a space where few to no people were “out,” how to address sexual pressures and create a culture of consent, and how to support campers and staff being bullied or feeling pressures related to body image. While these concerns cover a range of topics, each focuses in some way on issues of inclusion and safety within the community.

Camp staff members who took part in the Inclusive Communities workshop expressed clearly how important it is to bring these conversations to Jewish spaces.

93% of participants reported that the workshop improved their understand of gender, sexuality, and consent.

97% of participants felt that what they learned in the program would be helpful in their work at camp.

98% recommended the workshop for other staff.

Camp staff members wrote:

“It is really important that counselors are educated on these topics...This created a safe space, open dialogue, and taught me how to deal with difficult situations.” - Camp Solelim

“[This workshop] helps you know what to tell your campers and how to help them...It helps keep people safe.” - Camp B’nai Brith

In addition to the direct feedback on our programs, we’ve seen tangible changes taking place in camp communities each summer after receiving the workshops. Following the workshop run at Camp Northland in spring 2017, the camp opened new gender-neutral washrooms and began a more in-depth looking at gender divisions within its programming. Other camps began developing policies on inclusion of trans campers, and another camp hosted its first “Yom Pride” for campers.

Each time a young person leaves the Jewish community because they felt that some part of their identity was not accepted and celebrated, or did not feel safe among their peers, our community loses out. Over the last 3 years, we have worked with closely with 10 Jewish summer camps in Ontario and Quebec to tackle these challenges. We are at a unique moment in time, where camps, and society as a whole, are ready and eager to have these discussions. Camps want to create positive change in their communities; our mission is to help them make that change a reality. With CANVAS’ Inclusive Communities: Camp Staff Training Program, we have developed a vital program to support camps in this journey.

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Program Accomplishments

The Inclusive Communities: Camp Staff Training Program was the first program launched by CANVAS and, over the last three years, has made significant accomplishments in the community. From June 2015, when we first piloted the program with three summer camps, demand from the community has grown steadily and last year we worked with 9 camps, reaching 1200 camp staff members in June 2017; we project an even higher demand this summer and are aiming to bring the program to 12 camps in June 2018. Following our programs, we have seen camps creating gender-neutral washrooms, running programs to support campers experiencing sexual pressures, altering language they use in camp activities to be more gender-inclusive, and a deeper understanding and passion among camp staff members to discuss these issues openly. We have been called on to work with the Ontario Camps Association, the Union for Reform Judaism, and a wide range of conservative and reform summer camps.

Our most notable accomplishment, however, comes each time we see a young person who feels more included and welcomed in the Jewish community because of this work. We were extremely proud to learn that, following our workshops in spring 2017, one of the camps we worked with had its first camper feel comfortable enough to be “out” at camp. The director credited this largely to the newly inclusive environment the staff created fueled by their learnings in our workshop. It is examples like this that drivel our determination to help every camp create environments where youth are safe and supported to be their complete selves.

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How do you measure the success of your program?

All of our programs undergo an evaluation process to measure short-term learning and changes in empathy and desire for action, as well as long-term changes in a camp’s attitudes, policies, and/or infrastructure.

We define success in two areas: (i) On a personal level, we deem our programs successful when participants (typically teenagers/young adults working as camp counselors) report that their knowledge and understanding of LGBTQ+ identities, allyship, consent, and positive relationship skills have improved and they feel increased empathy and motivation to take action in their communities. (ii) On a broader, community level, we feel our programs are successful when camps report concrete changes occuring in their communities after taking part in the program. This might involve changes in attitude, increased retention and involvement of LGBTQ+ campers and staff, shifts in programming and language used at camp to support gender equality and consent, and changes to camp policies and/or infrastructure to create more inclusive environments.

We measure short-term results by administering feedback forms to all workshop participants at the end of each training session, using a mix of qualitative and quantitative data. Training sessions are typically delivered in June as part of camp staff training weeks, prior to the start of the summer camp program.

We measure long-term changes through interviews with each camp’s director and/or head staff at the end of the summer, following the completion of the summer camp program. These interviews gather feedback of the program’s impact on the camp community over the course of the summer. For camps we have worked with over multiple summers, we also track feedback and changes that take place over multiple years. This may involve change in staff attitudes, development of new policies related to consent and/or LGBTQ+ inclusion, change in camp infrastructure (e.g. creating gender-neutral washrooms, etc.), change in the number of campers/staff who feel comfortable being “out” at camp, etc.

We believe that our program has been extremely successful to date. Each year we update and adjust our program based on the previous year’s feedback to better meet our goals and ensure the programs continue to be engaging and relevant for every camp.

93% of participants reported that the workshop improved their understand of gender, sexuality, and consent.

97% of participants felt that what they learned in the program would be helpful in their work at camp.

98% recommended the workshop for other staff.

Participants used the following words to describe the program:

The Inclusive Communities program has a strong track record of success and we are looking forward to expanding this program with Natan’s help to continue this vital work.

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