engage community, community-based research, community partnership

Framing Friends of Simon: Building Community Partnership through a Film Project

February 25, 2020

What could a community collaboration look like when two organizations share similar visions?

In 2019, the Frames Film Program (Frames) and the Friends of Simon (FOS) undertook an exciting collaboration to produce a video. More than a marketing tool, the project’s creative output represents a shared commitment to community engagement and youth development. 

The collaboration began with a conversation between Ching-Chiu Lin, the Research Facilitator in the Faculty of Education, and the Frames Program Coordinator, Amanda Rose Schellenberg. Their shared interest in youth access to opportunities for creative work sparked the idea of Frames alumni pitching a video to FOS as a way to promote its mandate. As Ching described,

"Not only did I see a wonderful collaboration opportunity with the community, I also saw two organizations with very similar visions of helping marginalized groups through education."

The Friends of Simon Program, housed in the Faculty of Education, aims to enhance the educational experiences of immigrant and refugee children and youth through after-school tutoring sessions in individualized learning settings. FOS works with vulnerable school-aged children and youth on building literacy and numeracy skills while providing valuable community-engaged learning experiences for Simon Fraser University (SFU) students. 

The Frames Film Program is a film production and life skills program for youth (ages 16 to 30) who experience a series of systemic barriers in life. Initiated by Frog Hollow Neighborhood House (FHNH), Frames is a non-profit program offering training and support to help youth develop a wide range of skills and take steps towards employment and community engagement. Mentored by professional filmmaker and Frames instructor Ryan Atimoyoo as well as Registered Social Worker, Amanda Rose Schellenberg, the film crew included Jamarr, Thomson, and Hugh who built friendships through Frames and are now embarking on an entrepreneurial career path in media arts.

The team met with Angela Flumerfelt and Kanwal Neel, FOS Program Coordinators, to pitch a marketing video focusing on the FOS annual field trip to SFU’s Burnaby campus. Being exposed to a postsecondary learning environment through the FOS field trip and their tutors’ Canadian university experience, immigrant and refugee children and youth gain education and career motivation. The film crew also saw this trip, a glance into SFU tutors’ university lives, as an opportunity to feature tutor and student mentorships.

After two intensive meetings involving production logistics and location scouting, a gig was finalized between Frames and FOS. Amanda reflected on this collaboration:

"Friends of Simon wanted to create a video that showcased their important work with immigrant youth while supporting another youth-led organization with a similar undertaking. Both Angela and Kanwal were compassionate and understanding and we were able to come up with a vision that worked for everyone involved."

The May 3rd, 2019 field trip started at the SFU Fitness Centre, where 150 FOS students from three school districts in the Lower Mainland were greeted by their tutors. For many of these students, mostly newcomers or refugees, it was their first time visiting a university, and they were excited to be at their tutors’ campus. During the field trip, the students were able to participate in a range of campus activities, such as visiting SFU campus landmarks, conducting experiments in a science lab, experiencing indoor rock climbing, and participating in athletic and art activities. 

In the six-minute long Frames’ video, scenes of the field trip are presented with voice-over interviews with program coordinators, tutors, students, and a site coordinator describing their experiences with FOS. The footage, professionally captured, not only shows the students’ mixed feelings of excitement, uncertainty, and joy during the field trip but also highlights the trust developing between student and tutor through their subtle interactions while navigating the campus and activities.

For the Frames film crew, it turned out that their sensitive understanding of the underprivileged children and youth helped strengthen the film. Working alongside a professional filmmaker, the crew were able to put together a distinctive and cohesive narrative that covers themes such as mentorship, educational aspiration, and empowerment. As Amanda commented,

"This partnership [between Frames and FOS] was unique in that the youth involved in the filming of the field trip have also come from marginalized backgrounds. In a way, it’s like they had a particular eye for capturing the moments that described this narrative. There was an empathetic and collective understanding from both sides."

The interviews also collectively reflect FOS’s principles of enabling, engaging and educating. In effect, the video tells stories of how the FOS-school district partnership enables quality educational services, how SFU tutors and students engage in strategies and actions to enhance learning experience and well-being, and how all stakeholders work together towards a collective vision of educating children as responsive citizens. 

Observing how SFU tutors interacted with students during the field trip, it became evident that the tutors are more than teachers, mentors, or big brothers or sisters to the students. They are role models and cultural brokers who are able to provide personalized, responsive, and compassionate tutoring service and beyond for school-aged students: supporting their unique learning goals, cultural transitions, and personal development. 

Many of the tutors relate to their newcomer students because they were once newcomers themselves. For example, an FOS participant who received tutoring when she first arrived in Canada is now an SFU undergraduate student working as a proud FOS tutor. As Angela, FOS Program Coordinator, observed,

"It is amazing to see this kind of full circle effect. Often, the benefits are a lot more than just tutoring as friendships form. For many, the Friends of Simon experience is an important means of the acculturation process for new immigrants to Canada."

Similarly, for young adults like Jamarr, Thomson, and Hugh trying to navigate their entry into film industry, this film project in collaboration with FOS provided an opportunity for them to be treated as professional filmmakers, to gain work experience and confidence, and to execute the project through their creativity and sensitivity. As Thomson, the film crew member and Frames alumnus described,

"Being able to see the Friends of Simon’s filming project in action from such a close range, I can tell with absolute confidence that my learning experience in Frames is indeed very helpful. And it’s been my pleasure to be part of this [FOS] project."

Furthermore, this collaboration between Frames and FOS suggests the potential of long-term programming effects on participants, allowing community professionals and educators to ponder and leverage similar opportunities for young people. 

Watch FOS video: Trailer;  Full version