Charitable Choices: Meryl Ochoa of FiXT POiNT Arts and Media

FiXT POiNT Arts and Media has a national reach across Canada as a non-profit theatre and media company. Their head office is situated in Toronto and their mission is to inspire artists and audiences to preserve local heritage and tell tales across the provinces of Canada. They utilize several modern types of media, from web series via TVO, to the Empathy Squad Podcast, and even have a mobile recording studio on wheels where 3,000 Canadians province-wide have been interviewed to tell their stories. We spoke with Meryl Ochoa, the Artistic Facilitator at FiXT POiNT Arts and Media, to learn more.

FiXT POiNT
FiXT POiNT Empathy Squad Virtual Promotion Video screenshot (ft. Empathy Squad facilitators)

Describe your charity/non-profit/volunteer work in a few sentences.

FiXT POiNT is a Toronto-based arts and media company with a mandate to inspire audiences and artists to imagine change, and our mission is to promote local culture and preserve local heritage through the telling of tales across multiple platforms. We have interviewed over 3,000 Canadians from every province and territory in almost 200 communities, presented the stories gathered to those communities as well as edited and posted hundreds of oral histories on our Tale of a Town story map. We have also completed several projects rooted in site-specific oral history, including two seasons of TVO Series Main Street Ontario (with a third season on the way!). We deliver a volunteer-based training program that equips youth from all over Canada with audio-storytelling skills to create podcasts that highlight their communities’ narratives.

What problem does it aim to solve?

Through the Empathy Squad, FiXT POiNT aims to bridge the gap between the passion for advocacy and the skills necessary to transform community stories into an accessible and engaging form. In the last four years, we have taken our community-engaged audio-storytelling practice and trained over 100 youth in Canada who have produced audio pieces about stories from their own communities. Our youth volunteers spend several weeks in the Empathy Squad learning valuable skills such as community outreach, interviewing, audio recording and editing, project management and podcast production. The Empathy Squad started with 3 cohorts of participants in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) back in 2019, with the training workshops delivered in FiXT POiNT’s previous office in Toronto. We have begun delivering the program virtually, reaching youth across the country and helping provide space for stories from the many, diverse communities in Canada.

When did you start/join it?

I started my involvement with FiXT POiNT in September 2020 as a volunteer for the Empathy Squad program. I came on board as an audio editor in August 2021. I have now been in my current position since January 2022 – co-facilitating the Empathy Squad, and meeting and learning from amazing people from across the country!

What made you want to get involved?

I took the opportunity to join Empathy Squad as a way to collect and preserve the stories from my Filipino community in Stratford, Ontario while continuing to do creative work and developing skills in a new medium. I fell in love with this program that gives many young people like myself the ability to tell untold and under-told stories; the process was so humbling and rewarding and enlightening all at the same time, and so I leapt at the opportunity to help others have such a fulfilling experience, now as one of the facilitators of the program. I see so many of our participants grow as artists and as humans through engaging with their community through storytelling and learning from one another too, and forming bonds that last well after their cohort has ended. I’m in awe of people’s creativity and passion for sharing stories and advocating for people in their communities, and I hope to have many others join in this experience!

What was the situation like when you started?

The Empathy Squad cohort I was part of was the first to be delivered virtually due to COVID-19. As challenging as it was, FiXT POiNT successfully adapted to the changes required in those trying times to continue to deliver this program, especially at a time when many people may have lost the things that occupied their time.

How has it changed since?

Since transitioning to a virtual delivery of the Empathy Squad the program has opened up to individuals across Canada. This has given people, who otherwise would not have met, the opportunity to form connections with each other while sharing the same passion for uplifting voices in their communities. And, with our fantastic participants came more nuanced perspectives in addressing the diversity of Canadian stories. Currently, we’re training our 15th cohort with 4 more cohorts of Empathy Squad volunteers, this Fall and in the Winter of 2024.

What more needs to be done?

As an organization, FIXT POINT is always evaluating our programming to make improvements to the experience and adapt to the changing needs of our volunteers. One we’re currently working on is experimenting with the length of the program to fit youth volunteers’ schedules.

FiXT POiNT
FiXT POiNT Empathy Squad Final Day (Cohort 2)

How can our readers help?

Help us spread the word about the Empathy Squad! If you, or people you know, are passionate about storytelling, about amplifying the narratives of unheard voices, we invite you to read more about our Empathy Squad program and send in an application. Follow us on social media where we share application openings, Empathy Squad profiles, and the wonderful works created by our participants. All the pieces from our past participants are also available to listen to on our SoundCloud.

Do you have any events coming up?

Our Fall cohorts will run from October to December 2023, and Winter cohorts from January to March 2024. We are looking for individuals aged 18 to 30 years from across Canada who are passionate about serving their community and developing their outreach and audio-storytelling skills to create empathy-building podcasts. As part of the culmination of the program, our participants will host Listening Parties, which are virtual gatherings wherein they’ll share their podcast pieces with an audience for the first time. These are very valuable in helping our participants further develop their practice and in creating even more awareness of the stories they are sharing. Stay tuned!

Where can we follow you?

Website | Instagram | Facebook | SoundCloud

PAY IT FORWARD: What is an awesome local charity that you love?

Vertigo Theatre is a one-of-a-kind theatre company in Calgary that produces full seasons of mystery-genre plays and engages with youth and early career artists with their community outreach and professional development initiatives. A charitable society since 1997, Vertigo Theatre has had recognized success in bringing quality productions and top-notch audience engagement, as well as further enriching the arts by investing in artists from the community. Check out their 2023/24 Season and read more on how you can support this amazing company at their website!

 

About Emilea Semancik 107 Articles
Emilea Semancik was born in North Vancouver. Emilea has always always wanted to freelance her own pieces and currently writes for the Vancouver Guardian. She is also a recipe author working towards publishing her own series of recipe books. You can find her recipes on Instagram. @ancestral.foods