On this week’s Employee Spotlight, featuring the staff here and what they do, we have Siona Koker, our Youth Leadership Coordinator at The Storefront.
Name: Siona Koker
Job Title: Youth Leadership Coordinator
What do you do at The Storefront?
As the youth leadership coordinator at The Storefront, I am responsible for connecting young people to leadership opportunities and to the resources they need to become leaders in their community. I accomplish this in two ways, through outreach and direct mentorship. For outreach, I visit schools and attend community meetings to create awareness about leadership opportunities and youth support. For mentorship, I work with youth in two spaces that facilitate emergent leadership development and civic engagement.
“The function of freedom is to free somebody else” – Toni Morrison
How did you come to work at The Storefront?//What did you do prior to working at The Storefront?
I am originally from Alberta, and I spent my youth around children, from being a Sunday School teacher to a camp counselor. While completing my degree in Psychology at the University of British Columbia, I founded the African Caribbean Students Association and worked as a coordinator for the Women’s Resource Centre. It was there, where I developed a strong passion for community development and learned what it took to build and support a community. Recognizing my passion, I joined The Storefront, a place where I am able to work with people and the system as a whole.
What does it mean to you to be part of a Community Backbone organization?
It means that I never have to work alone. It means having the opportunity to collaborate with local organizations, resident leaders and stakeholders who share the same vision of supporting and elevating youth. It means having greater access to the variety of resources and opportunities that are available to youth in East Scarborough which means I can play a role in expanding the number of pathways available for youth to become leaders in their communities. Finally, it means having the ability to follow the youth’s lead down whichever path they feel is the most relevant and meaningful to them.
What is a project that you are working on at The Storefront?
At The Storefront, I foster leadership with two groups: Youth Zone and The Association of Committed and Engaged Youth (ACEY).
Youth Zone is an emergent leadership development program, where participants decide on the activities of the program. The goal of the program is to teach leadership skills through play. In the times of COVID-19, the space has evolved into a free learning space directed by youth. With the help of resident leaders (two former teachers and an ACEY member) youth are able to apply the principles of history, science and math to their topics of interest. The most recent topic we explored was world mythology.
ACEY is a youth-led grassroots group whose mission is to reaffirm the power that youth hold as a diverse collective of leaders at the forefront of generational change. They design and lead their own initiatives like the Diversity Dialogue and Disruption (3D) initiative, which interrupts power dynamics in spaces that youth occupy to explore how these spaces impact youth mental health. The meetings and initiatives are led by ACEY’s youth members and as their adult ally, I help them navigate the barriers of adult centred institutions.
Where is your favourite place to eat or your favourite food/cuisine?
What do you enjoy most about working at The Storefront?
I appreciate having the support to be experimental and emergent in my roles. It gives me the ability to try new things and pivot if certain things are not working. It helps ensure that the youth programs are high-quality and relevant to the participants. For example, one of ACEY’s mandates is to engage with the youth in mental health conversations. While the original goal was to engage with 120 youth in the community, so far, they have engaged 351 and counting.
Apart from your work at The Storefront, what are some side projects or hobbies you have outside of the office?
I enjoy photography and have recently taken up roller skating
If someone were looking for work in a role similar to yours, what advice would you have for them?
Youth are the greatest experts on what they want and need to develop and grow so at every opportunity you have, make sure to listen and follow their lead.
Favourite place you’ve traveled to & why?
My favourite place that I have travelled to so far has been New Orleans. The people, culture, music and food are amazing there. I cannot wait to visit again.
What is on your wish list for the next five years?
Universal Internet for everyone, deeper and consistent connections with local schools, even more collaborations with local youth serving community organizations and agencies, and more youth led spaces.
Where do you hope to see The Storefront in the next five years?
I hope to see more collaborative efforts between The Storefront and ACEY & Youth Zone to make more youth leadership opportunities accessible to all youths in the community. With Youth Zone, I hope to have more tools for the participants to develop their initiatives and leadership skills, preparing them for ACEY and other leadership opportunities. For ACEY, I hope to see more people join the program and have the participants be able to dive deeper in their projects relevant to their interests and the degree they are working towards so that they can contribute to the community with the skills and interests learned from ACEY.