REACH Edmonton

Young people in Mill Woods saw more targeted support services in their community in 2013 thanks to an expansion of an ongoing YMCA program. With funding from the City of Edmonton's Ounce of Prevention program, administered by REACH Edmonton, the YMCA was able to expand its Youth Transitions program to focus on vulnerable youth in Mill Woods by hiring an additional full-time worker. The program expansions in Mill Woods included a variety of services, including support counseling, drop-in services and life skills training. "We were doing these things a little bit before, but this six month pilot project was really focused on a geographical area," said Amanda Thorpe-MacInnes, Centre Manager at the Bill Rees YMCA. Throughout July to December in 2013, the programming focused on 12- to 16-year-olds in the area, reaching 440 youth over that six-month period. Of these, 49 were given access to personal counseling or life skills workshops. The rest of the youth served took advantage of drop-in services that were available at the local library. Youth were able to drop in to talk to a youth advisor about barriers they might be facing or problems they might be struggling with. Events were also hosted in area schools such as health and leadership workshops. Such workshops focused on skills like anger management, bullying, self esteem, employment readiness and healthy peer relationships. Surveys from students who participated in the program have already provided positive feedback. "The stats we're seeing show that it was really well-received," said Thorpe-MacInnes. "From the work that's been done in the community in the last number of years, we've seen that this area is really lacking in services for our youth." One of the most positive aspects of the program was the focus on building positive relationship skills among youth. "Many of our young people don't have the self esteem and confidence they need to go into a relationship and so they don't always realize when they're being abused," she said. "It's important for teens to understand what a healthy relationship is. If they're used to unhealthy relationships, they'll grow up and it will come out in their relationships with their children and the cycle will just keep repeating." They need to know they have the right to voice their concerns with their partners, said Thorpe-MacInnes. "If their partner won't listen, they need to have the strength to walk away," she said. Organizers feel that the focused efforts in Mill Woods benefited the youth in the community during the six months they were offered, said Thorpe-MacInnes. "It was such a short period of time, but the ones we have been able to touch have really been positively affected."