NGEN – AN INCLUSIVE AND POSITIVE SPACE
By Amanda Cheung
“How can we have a place for young people to have power to make decisions?”
That is the question Amr Abdel-latif, co-founder of NGen Youth Centre, asked himself at 17 years-old.
Amr came to Canada in 2007 from Jordan when he was 14. At that time, he was part of a youth centre, which later became like a family to him.
“It wasn’t just a place, a physical place, but a community, a family and a place at the same time.”
When it closed down, Amr saw the need for this kind of youth space to exist in downtown Hamilton and acted upon it.
In 2010, When Amr was just 17, he decided to do something radical and something counter-cultural. He decided that downtown Hamilton needed a youth centre, and he decided that he was going to put youth at the top of it.
“What I wanted to do was create a new concept for young people, to change how the system ran and worked.”
When Amr first opened NGen in 2012 with co-founder, Jennifer Hompoth, he realised that a lot of people weren’t taking him seriously because he was a young person. As a youth, he knew the potential that he and his peers had and
NGen is founded upon the idea of youth-led, youth-driven initiatives.
“Youth have experience in life. Let’s take youth seriously,” says Amr.
“We made sure it was inclusive for all, we didn’t put people into boxes and we gave people opportunities because, what I personally discovered was that, I have a lot of potential which I wasn’t originally aware of but just because people supported me and told me, I started thinking, okay, what can I do?”
Just as an engine is made up of pistons and propellers, NGen is powered from youth-initiatives and ideas.
“We will give the youth tools to make [their ideas] into something, give them mentorship and direction and they can start the program themselves.”
Steel Express is a break-dancing program that teaches the basics of breaking while fostering community and instilling discipline, dedication and hard work in its participants. It is one of many youth-initiatives at NGen. The hope of Steel Express is that the lessons learned would be applied in all areas of the participants’ lives.
During NGen’s first open house, Michael Abraham, an NGen youth leader and Steel Express facilitator shared about how NGen and Steel Express played a role in his life.
“Much of who I am today is attributed to the support and growth staff provided me. When I first came in, genuine interest was shown to me.”
Michael went through Steel Express first as a mentee before becoming a mentor. “The beauty of this program and our community is that we operate under the philosophy of ‘each one teach one,’ so with the knowledge I had gained, I received an opportunity of guiding my own mentee.”
Being a place for youth opportunity drives the gears and mechanisms at NGen, but nurturing a supportive family community is the fuel and heart of it.
“At the end of the day, when youth come through the doors, there are many things that come with them, like any person,” says Amr. “While we make people fulfill their potential, we also try to support their needs.”
It seems that NGen is well on their way in becoming that place where youth can have the power to make decisions and be supported in a family community.
“To me here, I am someone and I mean something,” says Michael.
Amanda Cheung is a freelance photojournalist currently working as the Special Initiatives Coordinator at the Immigrants Working Centre.