Creating DAYS: A Youth Centered Approach to Youth Spaces in Digby, NS

Oct 21, 2022 | #WelcomingSpaces

by Morgan Dunn |

The Communities Building Youth Futures (CBYF) project is a five-year Collective Impact project in partnership with Tamarack Institute, funded by the Government of Canada’s Goal Getters Program 

CBYF focuses on supporting youth (ages 15-30) in the transition to adulthood—from high-school to post-secondary, and into employment or other training opportunities. The Digby area is one of twenty communities across Canada involved in this project, selected for the CBYF project in part because of the low graduation rates and because Turning the Tide (an Inspiring Communities Initiative) was a community host familiar with Collective Impact. 

An important part of the CBYF project is developing a five-year strategy. This strategy, known as the Plan on a Page (POAP) was developed in collaboration with our Leadership Table, which is made up of community partners and youth. 


This image is an infographic showing the "plan on a page" in more detail.

The POAP for CBYF Digby has four key priority areas: 

  1. Education: Improve the overall level of education and preparation for future employment or further education.
    • Increase high school graduation rates 
    • Help young people feel more prepared for life after high school (i.e. employment and financial readiness) 
    • Increase awareness of and create opportunities for alternative ways of learning
  2. Employment: Improve employment options by creating education and training opportunities
    • Increase awareness of employment options (existing and potential) in the area 
    • Create supports to enable youth to become viable entrepreneurs and innovators
  3. Supports and Services: Work with service providers to make services and supports more youth friendly
    • Increase awareness of services and how to access services 
    • Identify and address factors that make it challenging for youth to access needed services 
  4. Activities and Spaces: Improve access to youth-friendly spaces in the area
    • Increase activities and spaces for youth; increase awareness of activities for youth 
    • Reduce barriers (i.e. transportation) to accessing youth activities and spaces 

The Beginning of DAYS 

Responding to the lack of youth-friendly spaces, CBYF Digby created a youth space called Digby and Area Youth Space (DAYS, for short), designed, implemented, and run by youth.  

A youth-friendly space is a need that has been identified by many youth through surveys, group discussions and conversations. Many youth felt like they did not have any space in the community specifically for them, as they could only stay for a little while after school until they had to leave, and would often get asked to leave restaurants and other shops if they hung out there too long. Since the need and interest was there, the Turning the Tide team wanted to engage youth in the process of creating a space just for them—we wanted this space to be for the youth, and for them to feel ownership over it.  

But, It Wasn’t That Simple…  

Turning the Tide had already applied for and received a Community Innovation Fund through Tamarack and funded by the Government of Canada’s Goal Getters Program, but the project we initially set out to do—providing internet access and devices to youth—was already being addressed by the Nova Scotia Department of Education and Early Child Development, so we had to come up with a new idea.  

Turning the Tide facilitated a design-thinking session with the Youth Connections Team (this is a group of youth ranging from 15-30 with an array of backgrounds and experiences. This group shares and acts on what’s top of mind for youth in the Digby Area). We gave the Youth Connections Team guidelines and the topic of Rural Youth Connections, and after two design-thinking sessions the group narrowed down their list of ideas to a youth space.  

Once the idea was set, we got to work. Turning the Tide created an action team with youth from the Youth Connections Team, community partners, and adult allies, along with co-op students. The action team met once a week in an adult-youth collaborative format to develop programming and communication strategies.  

Working With Youth 

Turning the Tide had two high school co-op students helping with research and design for the space. These students played a very important role in engagement and information gathering. They were able to engage youth at the local school when Turning the Tide was not allowed in due to pandemic restrictions. The co-op students were able to ask questions and get feedback from students for DAYS and its programming.  

As part of their research, they also connected with multiple youth centres across Nova Scotia, learning about others’ programs, in-take and registration processes, and the background work that went into their spaces. The co-op students were also able to get invitations for Turning the Tide to visit these youth centres, so we could apply our learnings to DAYS.   

Hiring Youth 

Turning the Tide hired two youth to run DAYS. With our support, these youth staff developed a risk management plan, developed programming in collaboration with the action team, did promotion and communications, ran day-to-day activities, and ensured youths’ feedback was incorporated in the programming and space.  

DAYS incorporated input and suggestions from youth on the Youth Connections Team and high school students. Per their suggestions and ideas, there is a spot to hang out and play games, desks and laptops for studying and homework, a small library, a free store, a coffee bar, a tv, and video game equipment.  

Opening Up and Locking Down 

When it came time to open DAYS in March 2021, Turning the Tide struggled to promote the program and engage youth. Only a few youth showed up for the first month—but over time, more youth began to stop by, and we started to engage many repeat visitors. And then, just as it felt like we were gaining momentum, Nova Scotia went into a province-wide pandemic lockdown.  

The team quickly pivoted, and moved online. We hosted two weekly hangouts on Google Meets where participants played games such as Trivia, Kahoots, and Bingo. We asked for suggestions from youth and built them into the programming. We found success engaging youth during this time by providing a safe space online, where youth could hang out with friends and meet others. Turning the Tide even held a virtual campfire where we sent s’more kits to youth so they could have a campfire with the family and friends they were bubbling with. This was a great way to engage youth and share more about DAYS! 

Innovative Engagement 

Once the province started to open up, public health restrictions still did not allow for many people to gather in indoor spaces, so again, the Turning the Tide team had to adapt and be creative. Instead of only hosting our programming indoors at the DAYS space, we held outdoor movie nights and campfires, which were well attended by both youth and their families.  

The space where DAYS was located, when we could use it, was great—but the team started to identify some barriers for youth accessing it. There was a set of high, narrow stairs that people had to go up to access the space, and youth in surrounding communities facing transportation barriers were unable to get there. And so, Turning the Tide made a decision to move the space to a more accessible location, while also working with communities to create satellite sites so that youth would not have to travel to access safe spaces with other youth. Currently, we are in the process of meeting with community members to look at venues, and will engage youth and community members in the design and implementation of those new satellite spaces.  

Throughout the creation and implementation of DAYS (and now in the creation of future satellite sites) it was very important to Turning the Tide that youth were involved in every aspect of the process. In taking part, youth were able to gain confidence in their abilities and leadership, as well as develop new skills such as program development and planning. The sense of pride and accomplishment of building something from the ground up, and the skills and experiences that come from that, will stay with many of these youth throughout their lives. 

Lessons Learned 

Some key learnings Turning the Tide had throughout this process are: 

  • You do not have to start from scratch. It was very helpful for the team to learn from other youth spaces. Many of them shared templates and documents that we were able to modify for our programming. Most people in this field are very willing to share their experiences. 
  • Youth involvement is crucial. Youth are more likely to be involved and have ownership over the space if they are involved in the design and implementation. 
  • Be adaptable and willing to pivot. Due to COVID-19 and the resulting public health restrictions, Turning the Tide had to adapt and pivot programming online quickly, as well as being adaptable to include youths’ suggestions and ideas. 
  • When there are barriers, be creative. Turning the Tide was unable to get into the school, so we asked the co-op students to get feedback and suggestions from students. 
  • Partnerships are important. Community partners and youth on the action team played a big role in the planning and promotion of DAYS since we all came from different backgrounds and work with youth in different capacities. 
  • Building awareness and engagement takes time. The relationships that the team built and the promotion we did eventually created awareness of DAYS, it just took some time. 

We have lots of learnings from this project and continue to learn. If you would like to follow us on our journey or learn more about DAYS and youth space satellite sites, see our social media pages and contact information below. 

If you would like to learn more about the creation of DAYS, here is another recent case study:  


Interested in Learning More about Turning the Tide’s Communities Building Youth Futures Initiative? 




Interested in learning more or connecting with Morgan? She can be reached via email at 

Morgan Dunn

Morgan Dunn

Communities Building Youth Futures Coordinator at Turning the Tide


Morgan Dunn is the Communities Building Youth Futures Coordinator for Turning the Tide in Digby, Nova Scotia. She has been employed with Turning the Tide for almost 3 years, initially as part of a university placement while taking her bachelor’s degree in Community Development from Acadia university, before creating her own job with Turning the Tide to support youth in the Digby area. Morgan has gained experience in facilitation and leadership through working with youth and community partners to pilot and scale new and existing programs to support youth in the transition to adulthood.