Yellowknife-based youth sexual health program FOXY, or Fostering Open eXpression among Youth, has been awarded the $1-million Arctic Inspiration Prize to allow the non-profit organization to continue to expand its work on sexual health education for girls in the Northwest Territories. In previous years, the award has been divided between applicants.
FOXY began as a research project for Candice Lys, a University of Toronto PhD candidate. After a grant from the Public Health Agency to start building FOXY, she hosted the first sexual health education workshop in 2012.
“I always thought FOXY was a million dollar idea,” Lys said. “I always thought it had a lot of potential, and hoped that somewhere along the way we would find that level of recognition that we were looking for.”
Lys began the groundwork research for FOXY while completing her masters at Dalhousie University. “When you’re creating something like FOXY, it’s impossible to not live it and breathe it, and be all-encompassing of your life—my journey with FOXY has been really amazing,” she said.
When the workshops began, Lys admits a key component of the program was missing. “We did a couple workshops and things weren’t quite right—we were kinda getting there, but something was still missing. I was introduced to Makenzie, and when I met her, it was the missing piece,” she said.
UVSS Director-at-Large Makenzie Zouboules was first introduced to the project through a production of The Vagina Monologues, sparking her interest for sexual health education. “A lot of what we were talking about was actually really happening in my high school, in my life, to my friends. I could list women in my life who had been sexually assaulted,” she said.
“Monologues” producer and FOXY Project Coordinator Nancy MacNeill then introduced her to Lys. “We hit it off right away,” Zouboules said.
At Zouboules’s first workshop in Unuvik, her role was “to act as a bridge between facilitators and participants to make them feel more comfortable,” she said. From then on, she became the first peer leader in the program.
“We built the peer leader program from that—the idea that young women could be mentors, could demonstrate leadership, and the skills we were looking to foster in the workshops,” she said.
Zouboules also brings lessons learned through FOXY to her leadership position at the UVSS. “FOXY, for me, is a lot about consent. I brought a lot of that [to UVic],” she said. “As someone who’s in a leadership role, it’s really important to understand when [it’s] a good time to step up and step back.”
Three years of hard work later, Zouboules finds herself sitting at the Arctic Inspiration Prize’s award gala, waiting to hear the results of their application for the prize. Although Candice Lys and Nancy MacNeill were notified three weeks prior to the award, the rest of the FOXY team awaited the announcement with anticipation. “I was sitting next to the elder who was working with FOXY, Mrs. Dragon,” Zouboules said. Mrs. Dragon allows the team to call her Setsune, or grandmother in Chipewyan. “She looked over at me and said ‘Makenzie, I think we’re going to win the whole thing.’”
“The first thing I did [when the award was announced] was hug her, because she knew in her bones that we were going to win it,” she said.
The application process had been strenuous, according to Zouboules. Every project must submit a clear action plan on how the organization will use the funds, and must include an application by each member of the team. Winners are also expected to present a follow-up to their winnings at the next year’s gala.
“In that moment, it just felt very validating that all this work that we had been doing—it mattered, and young women in the North mattered, and young people and their sexual health and their relationships matter as well. It was so wonderful,” she said.
“We’re pulling up our sleeves, and getting back to work.”