June 24th, 2024

New YMCA programs target well-being in youth and young adults

By Cal Braid - Lethbridge Herald Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on December 10, 2022.

The local YMCA has expanded their services to include two new programs intended to help struggling youth and young adults.

The programs are YMind, a class for ages 13-30 that deals with stress and anxiety, and the Alternative Suspension Program (ASP), aimed at youth who are having trouble in school. Both programs are underway now, and were identified as areas of need within the community by the YMCA network.

Kristina Larkin, director of community programs, discussed the importance of having programs that can assist young people as they navigate the rough terrain of a post-pandemic world.

“YMind came about just because the demand for mental health services continues to grow in every community, and Lethbridge is no exception. We were hearing a call from youth themselves, from parents, from teachers, and coaches.”

She said that it’s not just a result of recovering from the pandemic, but that it’s a difficult time in general to be young. The challenging job market and the experience through COVID left a lot of young people feeling isolated. Larkin said, “You deprive them of the opportunity to develop skills and coping mechanisms that would’ve happened more naturally in schools and in their regular recreation programs at places like the YMCA. We didn’t get to see them, and now we want to try to fill the gap of what we missed doing with them in the meantime. With the rise of digital life young people are really struggling. It’s a chance for us to help them learn to manage their stress and anxiety so they can be successful.”

She said the ASP isn’t necessarily the result of schools contacting them and saying, “‘Oh, we’ve got so many kids suspended. What should we do with them?’ All of our local schools are doing a fantastic job of trying to support inclusion in schools and make sure all kids are successful, but we know that schools aren’t in this alone either. It takes a village and we want to be part of that.”

“We know that sometimes there’s a barrier that young people experience in being successful at a school. We wanted to offer this program that we had identified through the YMCA network. They were looking to establish more sites and through the ScotiaRise grant, and we were able to seek this out. Here’s an evidence-based program where kids just take a very short break from the school site, but stay in connection with the school. We help them stay caught up, and also work through on an individual, level the barriers that stopped them from being successful at school. Maybe they were bullying somebody, using substances, or they were experiencing a relationship breakdown that made it not safe for them to be at school. They can take a short break with us and work through one of our custom workshops. (The workshops) have been studied and there’s proof that these are the type of interventions that work. The whole time we keep them connected with their school, their teacher, and their family. We work with them to re-integrate over the next few months. All the evidence points to a really low repeat of those behaviours.”

The ASP takes six and YMind takes eight registrants at a time. The small groups allow the facilitators to ensure that the content is customized and the material specific to what individuals need at that time.

“We know that for every student that has a hard time at school, they have a unique reason for that,” Larkin said.

Registration for YMind is made by contacting the YMCA and then doing an intake. ASP is a school referral program, but Larkin said that if a parent feels like their child might be a candidate, they can inform the school of that.

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