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Blog Post #15:  Justin Sweeney on his involvement with Working 4 Change, a project supported by the Social Innovation Fund

Mentorship is time well spent

Volunteer opportunity nurtures change 

When it comes to volunteering, Justin Sweeney knows what he’s looking for. 

 

So, when he was asked to join Working 4 Change: Learn & Go as a mentor, it was an easy yes. 

 

“It ticked all my boxes,” says Justin, a project manager with the Saint John Community Loan Fund.  

 

The time commitment – six weeks – was defined. The roles and responsibilities were clear and aligned with his skill set in project management. 

 

Most importantly, Working 4 Change is about just that – making something happen. 

 

“I love that it’s just so driven towards action,” he says. “Success for me was going to look like well-scripted projects coming to fruition.” 

 

Working 4 Change: Learn & Go, an initiative of the Saint John Women’s Empowerment Network, is a 10-week leadership capacity building program for people living in Saint John’s priority neighbourhoods. It gives them skills and opportunities to facilitate social, political and economic change. 

 

“When you give someone this level of ownership in their community, you’re giving them a sense of pride,” Justin says. “In Saint John, that’s something we can always use more of.”

 

The project has received support from the Social Innovation Fund. Managed by Living SJ, this investment by the Province of New Brunswick of $10 million over five years supports new approaches to fighting generational poverty in Saint John.

 

As a mentor, Justin sees his role as providing advice, contacts, accountability and encouragement to people he describes as highly motivated, community-minded and action-oriented, but, “whose voices have not always been validated.” 

“When you give someone this level of ownership in their community, you’re giving them a sense of pride.” 

-Justin Sweeney

Working 4 Change: Learn & Go mentor Justin Sweeney with his daughter, Keira.

Justin got involved in the winter, mentoring a group of people living with disabilities who wanted to do something about the low rates of employment in their cohort. They told him of the stigma they’ve experienced their whole lives, and of their many accomplishments. 

 

“We recognized very early on their biggest asset was their lived experience,” he says. 

 

The group’s project was a symposium that took place in May, during Disability Awareness Week, that brought together job seekers, employers and service providers. The participants shared their stories, bringing the audience to tears at times, and to their feet for a standing ovation. 

 

“It was so much more meaningful than just a PowerPoint,” he says. 

 

That group is continuing its advocacy work and has formed an association. 

 

“They’ve been empowered, validated, they now feel very capable of managing this on their own,” Justin says. “It’s the best-case scenario. I can't think of any better version of success.” 

 

More recently, he’s worked with a group from Waterloo Village with a goal of fewer needles on neighbourhood streets. They did their first needle sweep June 22, after consulting with local harm-reduction organizations on how best to help. 

 

Justin has found such satisfaction as a mentor with Working 4 Change, he’s since joined the steering committee.

 

“It’s really rewarding,” he says. “You see the benefit of your time immediately.” 

Justin and his first Working 4 Change group. Participants held a symposium in May during Disability Awareness Week.