Helping Youth Thrive in these Unpredictable Times

The Virtual Halton Youth Initiative Program

By Siobhan Laverdiere, Halton Youth Initiative Project Coordinator and Lily Viggiano, Youth Asset Builder

The goal of the Halton Youth Initiative (HYI) is to elevate youth voice and empower youth to have a positive impact in the communities of North Oakville, Acton, Aldershot and Milton. The project is youth-led, with young people identifying local issues and strategies for possible solutions.  Activities are grounded in an asset-building  approach and focuses on relationship building. Funded by the Ontario Trillium Foundation, the initiative brings youth and adults together to form developmental relationships in the four communities. 

Youth Tackle Self-isolation: Using Technology to Cross Borders and Connect

By the time the Region of Halton instated COVID-19 pandemic emergency measures in early April, HYI youth groups had already begun to move the project to the virtual world. This important transition provided an unexpected opportunity for the four youth tables in North Oakville, Acton, Aldershot, and Milton to become borderless and to begin to connect with and get to know each other. Expanding their personal online communities to the other Halton HYI communities and beyond was a natural step for most of them.

Zoom online meeting

Still Reaching Goals in the Virtual World

Core HYI goals:

  1. Youth know more about local resources.
  2. People and organizations know more about topics that matter to youth.
  3. Youth work with community agencies to develop/promote positive youth hang-out space.

The four youth groups quickly found that they could continue their work virtually. They reorganized themselves into three online communities, each taking on one or two of the HYI core goals.

  • Communications Crew focuses on creating informative and engaging content for social media, the HYI website (blogs and vlogs) and traditional media.
  • Community Builders are developing campaigns that support or acknowledge specific groups of people in Halton during COVID-19, for example supporting seniors and acknowledging grocery store clerks.
  • Creative Spaces group is developing virtual activities for HYI youth and other youth in Halton. They are also promoting opportunities in the community for youth participation.

Weekly ZOOM meetings facilitate discussions and planning, and the youth use Google Classroom and Google Drive to share and edit content they have developed for their projects. They have posted blogs, images and other information on social media, and written letters to the editors of local media for National Volunteer Week, National Youth Week and about addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. They are coordinating virtual card games with seniors, recording DIY tutorials face masks, and hosting Kahoot! quiz championships for Halton youth.

The Town of Halton Hills and Positive Space Network have requested specific content from our teams for their own youth engagement activities.

Instagrams
Instagram posts by the Communications Crew

COVID-19 Virtual Response Game: Online Asset-Building

Most youth are feeling stressed, anxious, and bored during the pandemic. An empowering COVID-19 Virtual Response Team game was the answer to helping attend to these negative emotions.

Each week, youth and adult allies come together online to talk about one dimension of the Developmental Relationships framework. They participate in activities that connect with a weekly theme and compete for points and fun prizes.

For example, youth were asked to reflect on the Developmental Relationship dimension of Challenging Growth as it relates to their virtual participation.

How has changing everything onto a virtual platform in general challenged your personal growth?

“It’s helped me become more independent and create my own schedule.”
“I’m taking the initiative to ask others for help.”
“A lot of self-regulation…”
Self-motivation… “to focus on school work as there’s no strictness.”

Virtual Safe Space can Help Build Confidence and Boost In-person Participation in Future

The young people are responding positively to the three newly-formed groups and are growing through the virtual experience. Some who may not have high participation at in-person meetings are more confident and join in more within the virtual environment. The groups are learning the etiquette and protocols of meeting online as a group, such as one person speaking at a time and intentional listening. Skills that can support interpersonal in-person interactions later on.

We continue to find ways to foster connections between team members, they are also trying to find innovative ways to create safe spaces online for some young people to make it more comfortable to participate. This may lead to increased confidence and self-esteem later with in-person group meetings and interactions.

If you are a community partner and want more information about the Halton Youth Initiative or would like get involved visit www.haltonyouth.com or contact program coordinators, Siobhan Laverdiere, siobhan@ourkidsnetwork.ca or Lily Viggiano, lily@ourkidsnetwork.ca.

Download program overview and full details.

Halton Community Partners Share Ideas and Information on Supporting Youth

More ideas and strategies on supporting and working with youth during the COVID-19 pandemic from the Oakville YMCA, Oak Park Neighbourhood Centre, Oakville Public Library, Nelson Youth Centres, Milton Public Library, Canadian Gap Year Association. Download the PDF.

Battles

By Our Kids Network Milton Hub Coordinator

“Be kind to everyone. You don’t know what battles they’re fighting.” is paraphrased from a quote written by Scottish author Ian MacLaren in 1897. It still rings true today and never more than when we are working with adolescents. Life is hard enough through this period of development, but these days youth contend with social media and the tremendous impact that it has on their lives. School yard bullies wait for them now via social media. Too often home is no longer a safe place to hide at the end of the day. Keyboard stalkers are there at every click to criticize and bully. The pressure is on to fit in and get noticed by the number of likes and views on hundreds of social media and gaming platforms. Youth struggle to be “unique” in a world where rich media celebrities and music icons promote unattainable luxury lifestyles and model shallow, destructive behavior.

The competition to get into a post-secondary school and find a good job is substantially more stressful now than it was even fifteen years ago. And both families and young people are bearing the financial burden of higher education.

Adults are more stressed these days for their own reasons, and that affects the young people around them. All of this adds up to much higher rates of youth struggling with depression and anxiety at younger and younger ages.

“Be kind to everyone, you don’t know what battles they’re fighting.”

Imagine yourself as a youth: you arrive at school and not one adult smiles as you walk in the door. Not one adult addresses you by your name or asks how your morning is going. Not one adult takes an interest in you, guides you, or supports you. No one seems to see or care about the battles you’re fighting. They are preoccupied with imposing their own agendas on you, and might criticize you if you can’t follow through. You would certainly feel disheartened and hopeless, and overwhelmed. The pressure would seem unbearable. Then you arrive home and encounter stressed parents, who may be dealing with the needs of their own elderly parents and have no time for yours. When you imagine yourself in this situation, it’s easy to understand how anxiety and hopelessness can build up.

“Be kind to everyone, you don’t know what battles they’re fighting.”

Now let’s think about this quote when we look at interacting with young people, including our own children. Let’s be the adults that smile when a youth walks into the room. Let’s make an effort to know their names and learn something about them. Let’s guide them and always support them. We’ll ask them how they’re doing and, if we’re concerned that they may not be doing well, we’ll ask them privately and find out how we can help.
It’s possible that you may be the only person in a young person’s day that reaches out to them, praises them, and sees the good in them. Let’s model how to be caring, empathetic and supportive for all youth that we encounter each day.

Teacher helping a troubled student

“Be kind to everyone, you don’t know what battles they’re fighting.”

When we meet youth that may need more support than we can offer, we want to be able to provide them with information about professional supports in the community. It’s important for us to know where to find information or who to ask for the appropriate supports so we can respond quickly to their needs. The Our Kids Network website is an excellent knowledge-building resource that includes Developmental Assets and Relationships First, found in the Building Relationships section. Try Halton iparent for information on Halton-based parenting programs and information.

Police constable talking and laughbing with teenager.

Most of all, remember, the easiest way to make a connection – smile and simply ask how they’re doing today.

Back to School Stress – 7 Ways to Help at Home

By Nikki Taylor, Senior Manager, Early Years and Family Supports, Oakville Parent-Child Centre

“In times of stress, the best thing we can do for each other is to listen with our ears and our hearts and be assured that our questions are just as important as our answers.” Fred Rogers, host of the television series Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood

After a fun-filled and relaxing summer, it’s time for children to head back to school. Some families rejoice in anticipation of getting back to the routine and structure that the school year brings, while others feel reluctance, butterflies in the tummy, or more intense anxiety about the situation.  Even for those who are excited, there is always an element of stress associated with this familiar transition.

Positive stress is a good thing, and in fact, an essential part of healthy child development. According to the Centre on the Developing Child at Harvard University:

“Positive stress refers to moderate, short-lived stress responses, such as brief increases in heart rate or mild changes in the body’s stress hormone levels. This kind of stress is a normal part of life, and learning to adjust to it is an essential feature of healthy development. Adverse events that provoke positive stress responses tend to be those that a child can learn to control and manage well with the support of caring adults, and which occur against the backdrop of generally safe, warm, and positive relationships. The challenges of meeting new people, dealing with frustration, entering a new child care setting, getting an immunization, or overcoming a fear of animals each can be positive stressors if a child has the support needed to develop a sense of mastery. This is an important part of the normal developmental process.”

So it turns out that the stress experienced by children as they head back to school can be good for them; but how do we ensure that it remains in the “positive stress” category?

Here are 7 tips to consider as families make the transition to school this fall:

  1. Children express stress in different ways. Know how children show you they are stressed.
  2. Stress is contagious. Be aware of your own stress and do your best to manage it well. The kids are watching.
  3. “Name it to tame it.” Dr. Dan Siegel talks about the importance of naming feelings for children. Stress is reduced when we acknowledge children’s feelings rather than denying or distracting them. Mix things up a little and try using some new emotional vocabulary. This list of feelings can help get you started.
  4. Get back to basics. Recommend a consistent routine, healthy nutrition, physical activity and ample sleep all help to reduce stress for everyone.
  5. Children’s stress is significantly reduced when parents are present, focused, calm and available. Ask parents to consider scaling back a little on the activities. Busy lives often result in chaos and disconnection. Spending time together, such as family meals, is shown in research to help build relationships, lower stress and is a wonderful way to connect with each other.
  6. Pillow talk is a bedtime strategy that can be highly effective in reducing stress. Tell parents to allow enough time for a child to relax, process the day and talk with you about anything that may come up. They should focus on listening rather than advising or solving problems. Children who have regular bedtime talk sessions with parents come to count on them and they often help children to relax and sleep better. This can take quite a lot of time, so parents need to be prepared.
  7. Let parents know about the benefits of staying connected to the school. When children see that parents are interested and engaged in positive ways to the school community, it tells them that school is important and also helps parents to understand some of what their child is experiencing every day.
Father talks to his son

Other Resources for Families

For more information on Family Assets (the everyday interactions, values, skills and relationships families can focus on to help them thrive), ourkidsnetwork.ca/Public/Families-Matter.

keepconnected.searchinstitute.org
Keep Connected offers all kinds of families—and organizations that support them—ideas, activities, and experiences to help build strong family relationships. Our goal is to strengthen family relationships to help kids be and become their best selves.

haltoniparent.ca
Halton iparent gives families easy, online access to Halton-based parenting programs, plus helpful, relevant information and resources on a wide range of child development topics in the Information Hub.

Youth Caught…Helping Others…Contributing to Community…Doing the Right Thing…

National Youth Week May 1 to 7:
Honour Their Involvement and the Good They Do Everyday

By Mary Tabak, Our Kids Network, Developmental Assets Manager

Our young people contribute so many great things to our lives and community. They are vibrant, passionate, hopeful, and committed to making the world a better place. Sensational headlines too often overshadow the everyday positive, courageous and caring behaviour of our youth.

National Youth Week is May 1 to7. It’s a perfect time to highlight and honour youth initiative and involvement. Recreation, drama, sport, dance, civic engagement, art, on the job, volunteerism, or leadership – every single day young people are engaged in positive and meaningful activities that benefit others.

They Could Have Kept Walking…

Last March, I was walking my dog on one of those cold days that was neither winter nor spring. Two teenagers along the trail with a shivering cat that had been out in the cold much too long. They asked me if I knew who owned the cat – I didn’t.  By the time my dog had calmed down after seeing the cat, these caring and responsible young people had already come up with an action plan. They decided to take the cat home to warm it up, put a picture of the cat and a phone number on flyers, and then post them around the neighbourhood. They also planned to knock on a few doors and call the Humane Society. Their enthusiasm and sincerity was heart-warming. I thanked them and acknowledged that many people would have just kept walking. 

Catch Them!

This week, and all year long, catch youth doing good. Catch them at home, in the neighbourhood or at the local mall. And when you’ve spotted them, reach out and let them know how impressed and inspired you are – and why. Once you start looking, you’ll be amazed at all the great things you’ll see. 

L to R: Teen volunteers at OKN’s Buskerfest event 2012. Connecting in the community. Youth volunteers at OKN’s Burlington Play Day 2018.

For inspiration, watch this video with real-life examples of youth in everyday situations behaving responsibly and sensitively, and often with humour

The Child and Youth Engagement section of the Asset-Building Toolkit has numerous ideas and resources to engage youth in your work and life.

Youth Activism in North Oakville Attracts Additional Funds to Expand OKN’s Halton Youth Initiative

By Siobhan Laverdiere, North Oakville Youth Initiative Project Coordinator

Over the past year and a half since the North Oakville Youth Development Council (NOYDC) started meeting, the young members have made great strides. They have raised awareness of the importance of valuing youth in the community. They have demonstrated the significance of meaningful and supportive relationships between youth and adults. And have advocated for providing safe spaces for youth to gather.

At the NOYDC, youth in grades 7 to 10 collaborate with adult allies from community organizations. They play an active role on the council; not only sharing their thoughts and ideas, but also guiding decision making to set and meet objectives.

It is because of this amazing, community-based youth activism, that Our Kids Network (OKN) recently received a three-year Ontario Trillium Foundation grant to expand the Halton Youth Initiative. This new funding will help to engage and involve more Halton youth in the North Oakville area and to broaden the scope of the initiative to Acton, Aldershot, and Milton through the OKN Community Hubs.

The Halton Youth Initiative Youth Asset-Builder, Lily Viggiano, and I will be working closely with all four communities to develop and support youth-led activities and provide opportunities for meaningful relationships with adult allies. Another important objective will be to ensure that youth have the experience of participating in positive change within their own neighbourhoods.

We’re very excited to be a part of raising in youth voice in each of these communities!

NOYDC Building on Success in 2019

In 2018 the NOYDC focussed on connecting and engaging the community and gathering information from youth on hangout spaces:

  • Youth Talks: Hear Us Out a youth-led event that provided the opportunity for youth to speak out and connect with adults.
  • North Oakville Youth Survey: 94 youth participated to provide the Town of Oakville with their ideas and suggestions on youth hangout spaces
  • Family & Youth Skate Night: This event promoted awareness about the importance of a caring neighbourhood for youth to thrive. The Oakville Beaver covered this event!

In 2019, the NOYDC plans to build on their past success and to continue work on their three key objectives:

  1. To advise on, and help to increase, more unstructured hangout space for North Oakville youth
  2. Build meaningful relationships between adults and youth, so youth can feel even more valued in our community
  3. Help to make youth more aware of resources in their community

For more information about the Halton Youth Initiative and the North Oakville Youth Development Committee visit Youth Voices Matter Community Initiative or contact Siobhan Laverdiere, North Oakville Youth Initiative Project Coordinator at siobhan@ourkidsnetwork.ca