How a London neighbourhood helped determine one woman's path

Did the community you grew up in determine your life's path? For Amanda Kennedy, her childhood in London's Manor Park led her to create Yotuni Social Enterprise for Indigenous kids and youth.

Amanda Kennedy founded Yotuni Social Enterprise for Indigenous kids and youth in 2017

Amanda Kennedy founded Yotuni Social Enterprise in 2017 for Indigenous children and youth. (Julianne Hazlewood/CBC)

Amanda Kennedy is from Oneida Nation of the Thames, but at 9 years old she moved to Manor Park.

She was surrounded by other First Nations families in the South London area, near Wharncliffe Road and Emery Street. And she soon became acclimated to the urban Indigenous experience.

"This was kind of like our own reserve, our own little nation," Kennedy said during a visit to the neighbourhood.

She describes the kids she grew up with as her comrades, her family.

It was those connections in Manor Park that inspired her to create Yotuni Social Enterprise last year, which Kennedy calls a safe space for Indigenous kids and youth.

"A lot of the children and youth that I grew up with … struggled throughout childhood, struggled throughout their youth and struggle now as adults," said Kennedy.

"This is my gift to the children and youth, hoping to steer them down a different path."

A sense of belonging

Kennedy is providing that support by offering programs for Indigenous kids and youth between ages four and 25. The home base is Innovation Works in downtown London.

Even before she officially launched Yotuni she offered a March Break camp for children from Oneida of the Thames, Chippewa of the Thames and Munsee Delaware First Nations.

She said the response from families is that the kids felt like they belonged.

Many of the people who work alongside her also grew up in Manor Park or had tough childhoods in the city surrounded by poverty and addiction.

"My team have all been through something," said Kennedy.

She said that experience is crucial, so they can help the kids who come to them heal and grow.

Kennedy's plans for the organization include reaching out to newcomer children.

"We understand that they too are coming through some hardships ... So there's anyone can understand I believe it's the First Nations who can understand."