Youth Helping Youth

By Mary Tsai-Davies

CAT Squad

Members of the CAT Squad prepare to load the car with donations to take to the Youth Services Bureau emergency shelters. Photo: Courtesy of GNAG

Over the past few years, GNAG has been very active in initiating new programs focused on youth, some of which have been adopted in other community centres across the city. The Be in the Band program, developed in cooperation with the Bluesfest Blues in the Schools organization, is just one example of this.

The Glebe Leadership program for youth (Grades 7 to 9) is a year-round counsellor-in-training program. This past fall, we expanded the leadership program to older age groups (teens, Grades 9 to 12) in a new initiative called the Community Action Team (CAT) Squad, focused on developing leaders in the community at large. Its primary goal is to help the teens become active community volunteers. As a group or individually, they take up a cause and run with it over the term. A portion of the program develops in response to the interests of the participants; however an underlying theme of “youth helping youth” is what this program has in mind. In this spirit, GNAG initiated a joint partnership with the Youth Services Bureau (YSB).

The YSB is a multi-service agency that provides services in employment, health and housing, mental health, youth engagement and youth justice. Our goal is to work together to develop, deliver and advocate for better conditions, services and opportunities for youth and families in our community. Teens in the CAT Squad assist in fundraising and participate in YSB events, while YSB helps educate our youth about the many issues young people face, helping to develop mutual understanding that youth in all communities can face similar obstacles and difficulties.

This past holiday season, CAT leaders canvassed friends and neighbours for canned food and clothing. The youth from our program then delivered over 20 bags and boxes of food and clothing to YSB young men’s and young women’s emergency shelters for youth from 12 to 20 years of age. Upon arrival, the director of the young women’s community housing facilities welcomed our group with a tour of their facility. The tour was an eye-opening experience for our participants, making the contributions more meaningful. In addition, a YSB professional spoke to our teens about homelessness and some of the difficulties these young people face.

A second project relates to the program’s goal of ‘giving back’ and community outreach – the CAT Squad cooked a holiday meal for the residents of the House of Hope. The House of Hope is a non-profit community residential facility that provides services to federally incarcerated male offenders on conditional release. The main goal of the House of Hope is to assist clients in reintegrating into the larger community in a responsible manner. It offers the client-centred support that is necessary for the promotion and maintenance of a lifestyle free from criminal activity. The residents of the House of Hope receive a daily living allowance as part of their program. This allowance covers only the most basic of food costs and is a tiny fraction of what most Canadians spend on food daily. As such, the residents were extremely grateful to receive the CAT Squad’s kind gesture.

For the New Year, the CAT Squad has initiated some other give-back projects. On Sunday, January 27, CAT Squad members will be facilitating arts programming for children at the Glebe Community Centre during the free-art festival known as Art Child. Art Child is a non-profit group that seeks to empower children through art.

On Toque Tuesday, February 7, volunteers from the CAT Squad and from the YSB will be out selling warm and cheery toques for a $10 donation. Eighty per cent of the net proceeds will go to support the work of YSB, while the remainder will help fund Raising the Roof’s national projects aimed at long-term solutions to homelessness and raising awareness.

We are so proud of the participants in this program. They have embraced these significant issues with maturity and dedication, diving right into the concept of “youth helping youth.” For more information about CAT Squad, visit our website at gnag.ca.

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