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Issue 31.3



By Kelly Micetich, Project Manager and Coach of the Urban Games Project







By Mark Charrington, YCDO — Youth Criminal Defence Office — Legal Aid Alberta


By Kelly Micetich, Project Manager and Coach of the Urban Games Project, (2009-2011), Edmonton, Alberta


By Stephen Kaiswatum, Urban Games Youth Participant / Employee, 2009-201


By Stephen Kaiswatum, University student


By Michelle Irsheid, Urban Games Youth Participant / Employee, 2009-2011


By Michelle Irsheid, University student


By Kelly Micetich


By Kelly Micetich


By Liz O’Neill


Edmonton Urban Games Youth Business Development Project 

This issue of the Justice Report focuses exclusively on a youth justice intervention called the Urban Games, an 18-month youth-driven project that culminated in a multi-day festival in Edmonton, Alberta.

The Urban Games Project applied the practice of youth agency to explore a Participatory Action Research (PAR) Theory of Change:

“If at risk youth involved in high-risk lifestyles and the judicial system have access to youth-driven opportunities to be productive and creative they will discover and utilize their skills and passions, develop positive relationships and be less likely to return to their previous lifestyles.”

The PAR Theory of Change is based on experiential learning, and thus posits life experience as integral to personal development. The Urban Games Project actively involved the young people in the process and provided them a structured environment in which they could live new experiences and alter the course of their personal development.

The returns to the youth were significant, with 8 out of 9 of the youth now having completely turned their lives around. The value of the learning and what it contributed to emerging practices was equally significant, as the project has clearly demonstrated that the impact of socio-structural disadvantage can be subverted through new experience. The returns on investment (2:1) are equally significant and gauged by a cost benefit Social Return on Investment Analysis (SROI).

The fact that the Urban Games was a public festival extended its reach, creating a new awareness among attendees of the far-reaching impact on youth and society of childhood abuse, poverty and homelessness. Upon examination of the behavioural and social outcomes, which challenge the stereotypical narrative of recidivism and cyclical behaviour, a new story emerges from the Urban Games journey.

The pages that follow present an overview of the conception, funding, implementation, and return-on-investment financial information behind the Urban Games intervention. Kelly Micetich, Project Manager and Coach of the Urban Games Project provides a comprehensive overview of the games. You will also read the personal ‘before-and-after’ stories of two youth participants, Stephen and Michelle, and enjoy a pictorial overview of the respective journeys and urban-game events of the other youth participants.


By Kelly Micetich, Project Manager and Coach of the Urban Games Project (2000-2011), Edmonton, Alberta

Behavioural and social outcomes that challenge the stereotypical narrative of recidivism and cyclical behaviour: A new story

Live an Examined Life
Personal power is critical. We all need it. Without a sense of personal power in our lives we can become victims of our circumstances. The perception that we have no choice, and our subsequent actions, often result in destructive and unintended consequences. This is the ongoing and critical challenge for young people involved in high-risk lifestyles. The reality is decision making by default. It is victim-based, anger-based, revenge-based, frustration-based, drug-induced and poverty-driven decision making. Such decisions do not lead to healthy successful lives.

While most of us experience the supports that help us gain personal power and healthy control in our lives, that is not the case for many of these young people. Anger, fear and isolation are the norm. Basic needs are unmet. The at-risk youth imagines a life beyond poverty and abuse and then seeks the ways and means to achieve it. The need for belonging and acceptance, control, money and power becomes the breeding ground for creativity. Illegal, destructive creativity. Often resulting in a chaotic downward spiral.

Justice involved youth risk becoming caught in a cycle that ends in criminal entrenchment.

The cost to society is high. This cycle costs us individually and collectively. It costs us peace of mind as we try to cope with unsafe neighbourhoods. It costs us financially as we replace stolen goods and repair property damage. The social and financial cost to tax payers for the systemic responses necessary to address these issues is astronomical.

So why are we not seriously investing in intervention resulting in the prevention of youth entrenchment? Often because we can’t prove it works. We don’t have statistics. We have governments at all levels who respond to the public fear of crime (and rightfully want to protect society) so more money goes into policing and building jails and remand centres. How can we prove that a preventative program will stop an imagined outcome? We needed a measurement tool. So the development of an SROI (Social Return on Investment) tool has been long overdue.

We can state as in intention that we want to prevent youth from becoming entrenched in the criminal justice system. We can logically say that interfering with that trajectory will lead to social and financial cost savings. So measuring the baseline costs prior to a program and then measuring them after an intervention makes sense. And using proxies for social costs and tracking the behaviours before and after the project should give us some useful data. So that’s what we did. We launched a project with a group of youth as co-conspirators in developing an approach to intervention that would change their lives. Five years later 8 out of 9 are still experiencing healthy lives. It was a long and challenging road, and it was a successful one on every level except one. We couldn’t get more funding for more youth to experience the process of change that led to healthy lives.

The actual reduction in measured costs to society was over 1.1 million dollars for these 9 youth. The funding cost of the project was 540,000. If you do the math, we are already ahead by half a million dollars on a 2:1.2 ratio and the trajectory speaks for itself. So my question is why do we still have to fight for funding for preventative projects for high-risk youth? Why do governments not create sustainable dollars for these programs as a standard social cost saving budget measure? I do not have an answer to this but will continue to advocate for changes in approach and philosophy that make a difference in society, make a difference to us all individually, but more importantly, make a difference in the lives of the young people who need it most.


By Mark Charrington YCDO — Youth Criminal Defence Office – Legal Aid Alberta

Mark Charrington elaborates on how the idea for the Urban Games Project emerged through the voices of disenfranchised youth, who emphasized how building more basketball courts in underprivileged communities simply does not do justice. Charrington goes on to discuss the overwhelming problems that can lead youth to crime and enumerates ingredients for successful countering of this social problem. Attributing the implementation of the project to a “perfect storm” and praising the project’s experiential learning framework, Charrington maintains that “the Urban Games owes its existence to young people who, quoting David Bowie, ‘We spit upon’, but they made something truly amazing and unique”.

By Youth Participant (2009-2011) Urban Games Project and BA student (2016)

In this poignant article written in 2016, Stephen summarizes his journey from childhood and through the Urban Games Project during adolescence, to his current reality as a young man who is 22 years old, lives independently and now sets and achieves goals for himself. He is in the process of completing a university diploma program in Public Relations. Stephen notes ironically that his involvement in the project was due to “a blessing in disguise” because the Urban Games was only hiring youth offenders, a “high-risk target group”, and he had recently made what he considers the biggest mistake of his life: he had committed a crime. Thus eligible for comprehensive, life-changing assistance, 15-year-old Stephen embarked on a journey that would change his life. His article goes from details of an overwhelmingly difficult childhood – “growing up in care wasn’t a walk in the park” – through his participation in the Urban Games Program. His event at the ensuing Festival was the ‘AH-MAZE-ING’ labyrinth (see page 18), a maze that reflected and responded to his own life troubles/ tribulations. AH-MAZE-ING was about choices and people’s ability to make the right ones. If attendees made the ‘right’ life decisions walking through the maze, they would find their way out. Stephen also discusses the importance of belief systems and how the Urban Games Project helped him learn how to make the right choices. He celebrates having been able to identify his own “self-worth” thanks to both adult and peer mentorship and “fine-tuned coaching” afforded him through the Urban Games project, noting that “it makes complete sense because any successful individual in the world can go back and name specifically a mentor or coach in their life that helped them reach their own goals”.

By Michelle Irsheid, Youth Participant (2009-2011) Urban Games Project and BA student (2016)

In this compelling article, Michelle presents a ‘recap’ of life, noting how she was put into child services at age 13 and “lived in foster homes, group homes and the streets, trying to figure out who (she) was”. After getting “in trouble with the law”, she met social worker, Mark Charrington, who told her about the Urban Games. She got an interview and was hired for the writing and art sections. She was “in a bad place” at first, with an abusive boyfriend, but made it to a better place thanks to her coach, who she felt she could “open up to and not feel judged anymore”. She calls the Urban Games “an amazing project” and gives accolades to her coach for guiding and helping her learn how to set goals, rather than just telling her what to do. Michelle now plays a coach role with her friends.

Noting that “Urban Games wasn’t just something you put on a resume, it was a place that you made lifelong relationships”, Michelle reports that today she is “in a place” she never thought she would see. She is a “mom, a girlfriend, a mentor and a friend”. Michelle’s advice to other workers is to not make assumptions, “don’t judge by a crime, or someone’s past” – and know that “there is always a way to guide and help someone” once “they are comfortable to call you for that help”. Still “connected with the youth and mentors from the Urban Games”. Michelle starts university this September, taking Correctional Services, and hopes to be able to “help guide other people that may be stuck in a place” like she was.

By Kelly Micetich, Social Development Consultant, Executive Coach & Correctional Services, MacEwan University

As coach to all the youth participants in, and person in charge of multi-faceted Urban Games Project, 2009-2011, Kelly Micetich emphasizes that coaching means engaging with a ‘thinking partner’, unlike counseling, consulting or telling. Affirming that coaching is based on the belief that solutions/decision/answers already exist within the client, Micetich describes the importance of Personal Development Plans and emphasizes the import of youth-driven Personal Development Plan goals and Indicators of Success (enVisioning the goal). Progress, tracked through a ratings system (from 1 to 10) and ensuing Reflections helps the young person to observe and record their journey.

The author thus explores Coaching as a process that supports youth-centred decision-making and goal-setting. To this end, Micetich explores the twin notions of Vision and Current Reality. Creating a Vision (where you want to be), she says, was of paramount importance to the success of the youth being coached. She adds that this is the first step in changing one’s Current Reality (where you are now), and that the individual transformation that occurs through experiential action is life changing.

Coaching, and being coached, affirms Micetich, also requires an understanding of two types of tension: Chaotic Tension (a place of inertia where spinning in panic and indecision or destructive decision-making happens and moves one away from the Vision or goal) and Creative Tension (a place of creative thinking where planning, and goal setting, etc. moves one closer to the Vision or goal).

Micetich was well prepared, by education and by profession, for her multifarious involvement in the Urban Games Project. In fact, while completing an Executive Coaching Graduate Certificate program at Royal Roads University in 2007, she had fathomed the very question of how to use coaching with high-risk youth. Her personal Vision was to develop a coaching approach that would support personal transformation through empowerment and agency, and it became her Current Reality over the ‘course’ of the 18-month Urban Games Project. Micetich herself used Reflections as an evaluative tool and notes that in the case of the Urban Games Project and Festival the youth far exceeded her expectations in this, and every other, regard. Kelly Micetich celebrates the process of Experiential Learning, because the journey is what gets us there.

By Liz O’Neill, Executive Director, Boys and Girls Big Brother’s Big Sisters of Edmonton and Area

O’Neill heralds the idea of the Urban Games as having sparked a questioning of what mentoring could – should – look like. This involved sorting through traditional roles and responsibilities and creating an environment in which the volunteers, chosen for their ability to connect and form relationships with high-risk youth, would view the youth participants as equals. O’Neill concludes by listing the characteristics (exceptional coaching and youth programming, collaboration and information sharing, committed volunteers, reflection, and a youth-centred approach) that made the Urban Game Project a stellar success.

Opinions expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the Association’s views, but are included to encourage reflection and action on the criminal justice system throughout Canada.

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