A member of the Northern Health team has achieved a great honour!
Andrew Burton has received well-deserved recognition this week as a recipient of a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal. Cariboo-Prince George MP Dick Harris, as appointed by the Queen through the Governor General of Canada, presented Andrew with the award on Wednesday August 8 for his “service to the community,” said Harris.
The award honours Canadians with significant achievements, and thirty of them have been given to residents of northern B.C. In addition to the specially designed medal, recipients of the award received a letter of commendation from the Governor General, on behalf of the Queen, an official certificate and lapel pin.
Andrew is a tobacco reduction coordinator with Northern Health’s population health team, where he develops programs to help people quit smoking and lead healthier lifestyles. He was anonymously nominated and received this award for his volunteer work with the Street Spirits Theatre Company, a Prince George-based youth program that aims to bring awareness to big societal problems through workshops, stage performances, and community interaction.
I talked to Andrew about his work with the theatre program and what winning this award means to him.
What is this award for?
This is an award primarily focused on my work with theatre. The award is here, in Prince George, and that means a lot to me, because I started the theatre program about 13 years ago, we travel a lot and teach workshops all over North America, and we still run into a lot of people in Prince George who have no idea who we are. This local recognition is really nice for us.
What is the theatre program?
The program I started is called Street Spirits Theatre Company. We work with young people from the Prince George area, who are all volunteers, and create stage performances about real problems in the world – HIV/AIDS, homelessness, bullying, sexual assault, family violence, drug use, poverty, eating disorders, racism, poverty in third world countries, and many others. We also teach workshops, called Theatre is Research, which involves going into a community and talking to people about what they think are issues in their community and then creating a performance about it. We give the community an opportunity to recognize the problem and generate grassroots solutions for it, and then we do a stage show about it. We also do social action theatre, called forum theatre, where members of the audience can get involved by entering the play and try to change it. We do about 25 shows a year, and two or three major workshops a year, and we have had people come from as far away as Australia to come train with us.
Why did you start this program?
We started the program to provide an opportunity for involvement for youth at the Youth Around Prince Resource Centre. Initial support came from the Future Cents program, Youth Around Prince, Ministry of Children and Family Development, Prince George Native Friendship Centre and Prince George Alcohol and Drug Services. We asked the youth coming in to the centre what they wanted and several said they would like to learn acting skills. To meet that need, and to provide a service to the community, we started Street Spirits. I took the lead because I have background in theatre and training in therapeutic theatre practice. It is important to the youth to not only take part in acting but to do so in a way that benefits the community. The work involves young people in activities that develop self esteem, life skills social responsibility and personal ethics. It also raises awareness and responsibility in the audiences who we perform for.
How do youth get involved?
We currently have 15 active members, but membership is usually lower in summer. We like to keep around 15-20 involved but we don’t turn people away. It’s all free of charge, supported by donations and we occasionally get grants, including from Northern Health.
Youth from our audiences will come up to us and want to be involved, some kids bring their friends and we do get referrals from social service agencies.
We meet at YAP Friends (Youth Around Prince) across from City Hall every Thursday at 6pm. Anyone is welcome to come and get involved. And this October, we’re doing a presentation at an international festival in New York City called Performing the World. Travel will be arranged through fundraising efforts with the members.
What does this award mean to you?
The award is coming to me for this work, but this work exists because of probably over 200 young people who have volunteered over the last 14 years, 25 adults who have volunteered to help facilitate and run the program, and because of the support for the Youth Around Prince resource centre, Ministry of Children and Families and the local businesses and organizations that have given us support over the years.
About Jessica Quinn
Jessica Quinn is the regional manager of health promotion and community engagement for Northern Health, where she is actively involved in promoting the great work of NH staff to encourage healthy, well and active lifestyles. She also manages NH's social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc). When she's not working, Jessica stays active by exploring the beautiful outdoors around Prince George via kayak, hiking boots or snowshoes, and she has recently completed her master's degree in professional communications from Royal Roads University, with a focus on the use of social media in health care.