The Town of Innisfil's Youth Engagement Strategy, The Future is Youth, is helping us make our community a more inclusive place for our young people (Grades 8 to 12) to live and grow. We built this strategy for youth, and it will evolve as our community changes.

Our approach

We created the strategy with feedback from over 300 students in Innisfil. When designing workshops, activities, and surveys, we kept the following three principles in mind:

Authenticity and transparency

To avoid youth feeling tokenized or patronized, we let participants know that their opinions and feelings were valid, their ideas were valued (no matter how big or small), and that we had no idea what the final outcome would look like because we were leaving our own predictions and opinions at home. Each activity began with a statement to youth about the safety of the space and importance of honesty. We also acknowledged socio-political events that may affect participation and the outcome of each session.

Youth-centred mindset

All engagement activities provided youth with a platform to speak and lead the conversations that took place. We adjusted the traditional tone, format, and navigation of activities to make them more accessible and meaningful to youth.

Commitment to learning

In order to engage youth in a meaningful way, we acknowledged that youth are the experts in their own experience and that a lot of learning needs to take place.

Benefits to youth engagement

Why focus on engaging youth? Research over the past 20 years suggests that young people benefit from engagement in community life because it:

  • Increases self-esteem, grows connections and reduces depressive symptoms — all of
    which contribute to a decreased risk of suicide
  • Increases a young person's ability to cope, life satisfaction, hope and overall well-being
  • Reduces substance use and smoking
  • Helps develop key coping mechanisms (i.e., self-regulation, coping)
  • Promotes the notion of taking responsibility for one's own care
  • Contributes to factors that help to strengthen youth resiliency
  • Promotes personal growth and identity development
  • Increases critical thinking skills
  • Improves academic performance and reduces dropout rates
  • Enhances leadership skills
  • Builds positive youth-adult partnerships
  • Broadens and strengthens social networks
  • Supports mental health awareness and the reduction of stigma

Visit YouthRex Research and Evaluation eXchange for more information.

Barriers to youth engagement

Our Youth Engagement Strategy builds on the principle that young people have a right to be involved in the decisions that affect them. Through conversations with over 300 students in Innisfil, we identified the following barriers to youth engagement:

Lack of youth-led programs and events

Youth do not feel that there are any programs or events specifically aimed at teenagers, planned by teenagers. Youth need to be involved in the planning and execution of programs and events; otherwise, the events will likely not appeal to them.

Promotion and communication

While youth use social media, online advertising isn't always the best way to reach them and their preference is face-to-face consultation. Youth recommended that the Town use more than one platform to get the word out about events and opportunities.


Youth are intimidated to participate in community decision-making because they are under the impression that adults have no interest in what they have to say.

Poor timing for engagement

We heard that sometimes we reach young people when it is a little too late. We need to make more of an effort to reach youth before their final years of high school so that they're not scrambling to get involved.

Trust and consistency

Youth are social and they are more likely to listen and attend events if they know somebody there. They need consistency and relationships to feel comfortable attending programs and events.

Reaching diverse youth

Young people have a variety of backgrounds, skills, interests, and experiences. Despite some common themes identified throughout this Strategy, it is important to remember that one voice does not represent all voices.


Innisfil is a "community of communities” and there is no location that is central or convenient for a majority of youth. Many rely on their parents to get places because it can cost too much to go where they want to hang out.


Parents can be a barrier to youth participation or achieving their own goals. Sometimes there isn't enough time in a day to commit to extracurricular activities.

Scheduling and timing conflict

Youth are busy during the week and many enjoy sleeping in and having the freedom to escape weekly stress on the weekends. Unfortunately, many programs and events take place during times that conflict with young people's schedules.

Local and global events

Social, environmental, and political events affect youth's motivation and comfort in participating in discussions that will help shape their community. Engagement must be flexible and responsive to the unique needs of those affected by both local and global events.

What matters to youth

View the many elements of what matters to youth today:

Places to go and spaces to belong

Youth in Innisfil do not feel that there are spaces where they can just hang out, connect with their peers, and be themselves, without accusations of loitering. They asked the Town to work with them to make current spaces more youth-friendly and to build more attractions for them, with diversity of culture in mind.

Getting around town easily and safely

Innisfil is a rural town made up of many communities and it makes getting around difficult. Young people want to be involved in the future development of Innisfil Transit, sidewalks, and trails so that they can help make improvements. Youth recommended that the Town create a teen-rate similar to the Fair Transit Program and asked for more resources informing them about the current system.

The environment

Young people care about the environment and feel that green spaces are what make Innisfil feel like home. Youth want to see an increase in low-cost opportunities for them to get outside and connect with their peers in nature. Involving youth in the development and sustainability of green spaces is a key recommendation.

Health and wellness

Mental health, suicide, and addiction are real issues in Innisfil, and we heard that youth want to feel more supported when talking about the issues that affect and matter to them. Young people want to see more support.

The future

Youth care about their future. They want to work and be independent; many have goals and a path for achieving them. There is significant interest in leaving Innisfil to explore what the world has to offer, and the financial stress and anxiety associated with “the fear of the unknown” can put their plans on hold.

Our focus areas

Young people in Innisfil want to be a part of conversations about Innisfil's growth, and in order to welcome their voices into Town spaces we must:

  1. Create space to amplify young voices by taking a closer look at opportunities within existing youth committees such as the Youth Connex and Teen Involvement Group.
  2. Develop opportunities for collaboration between youth committees and standing committees of Council.
  3. Meet youth where they are and engage in a way that is meaningful to them. A dedicated Youth Engagement Coordinator would help ensure that we engage youth across the Community Programming service bundle.
  4. Make youth engagement a natural part of everything that we do.

Youth opportunities

If you're a young person looking to get involved, check out:

Recommended reading

The Future Is Youth –Youth Engagement Strategy, builds upon existing Town strategies including our Community Strategic Plan Innovative Innisfil 2030, the Culture Master Plan and Our Health: Community Health and Wellness Strategy.