January 16th, 2021

Engaging youth to enhance communities

By Submitted Article on August 21, 2020.

There should never be a lack of ideas: FCSS

Garrett Simmons

FCSS Communications

Each summer, every parent is faced with a common complaint from their children – “There’s nothing to do!”

As a community agency, Family and Community Support Services often hears the same message from small-town rural youth. Although there may not be facilities available like movie theatres, malls, bowling alleys and indoor swimming pools in every community, there should never be a lack of ideas. In fact, possibilities are endless, according to Amanda Lawrence, BEW FCSS, Youth Services Co-ordinator.

“Although COVID-19 has potentially limited our ability to complete side-by-side or face-to-face interactions, what is not limited is our ability to help others,” she said. “These unprecedented times have opened up the possibility to look outside the box and utilize what we can, so that vital resources can still reach residents.”

In fact, summer provides a perfect opportunity to get young people involved in their communities, according to Lawrence, who added it is also important youth have the ability to reflect on challenges, and build resilience for themselves and others.

There are many ways for youth to achieve that, including simply being kind.

“This one does not take any effort and it can make the biggest impact to residents and businesses within the rural communities,” she said. “This can be as simple as positive words/drawings done on the sidewalk in chalk or re-posts on social media with quotes or pictures spreading kind messaging.”

Lawrence went on to say personal growth is another important factor, as young people can find ways to keep learning outside the school environment.

“There are many platforms available to learn a new skill set or practise an old one,” she said. “As adults, our focus should lie in encouraging our youth to not only build on their interests but also taking time to build on who they are.”

Empowering youth can also become a critical factor in ensuring they feel part of their communities.

“When there is an opportunity for us to help make youth stronger and more confident, it will be incredibly beneficial to do so,” said Lawrence. “Help to support youth’s efforts and interests by collaborating and offering space for them to make mistakes and learn from them.”

In Taber and the M.D. of Taber, for example, an interagency committee visits the classrooms of Grade 5 students to teach them the four pillars of resiliency. In the end, students celebrate the support person who has made the biggest impact on their life.

Throughout these lessons, students learn about problem-solving strategies and the importance of feeling and self-esteem, along with how to adapt a growth mindset.

“These are all incredibly important skills to have as youth get older, so they are equipped to work with the adversities they will undoubtably face,” said Lawrence.

As is the case with most successful initiatives, youth need to be engaged in the process, she added.

“My most used piece of advice for communities, agencies, organizations and churches would be to meet the youth where they are at,” said Lawrence. “Instead of expecting the youth to come to a program that you have set up, spend some time asking for their opinions on what services/activities they would like to attend.”

Ideas generated by the community will see higher youth participation levels if young people feel their input has been heard and supported, she added.

“In Coalhurst, at the Youth Centre, it is sometimes up to the youth who attend the program to determine the types of activities that happen,” said Lawrence, who added opportunities exist to develop leadership skills and create a supportive environment for other participants.

“Every person deserves to feel supported, and our youth are the community’s leaders of tomorrow,” she said. “Now is the right time to help them develop and instill skills while they are learning who they want to be and identify their own path or purpose.”

For more information on this topic, reach out to the FCSS Youth Services co-ordinator at amanda.lawrence@fcss.ca.

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