FAMILY Services of the North Shore is taking an innovative approach to expanding its reach on the North Shore.
This fall, the North Shore-based community agency - which offers a host of education, support and counselling services to people of all ages - is launching a new Youth Leadership Advisory Board (Youth-LAB) in an effort to both connect with more youth who are struggling and to provide a meaningful volunteer experience for local teens, empowering them to make social change.
"Youth are the best experts on youth and they know how they communicate with each other and what's going to be effective in reaching out," says Julia Staub-French, newly named executive director of Family Services of the North Shore. "We could sit here in our 40-year-old minds or we could get some really smart, engaged, thoughtful youth to help us figure that out."
According to Staub-French, recent statistics suggest suicide from depression is the second leading cause of death among youths in British Columbia, and 25 per cent of youths are struggling with anxiety, 11 per cent with depression, and others still with eating disorders and different forms of abuse.
"These kids are struggling and they're stuck and they're particularly stuck if they're in a family that's partly the cause of it and then they don't have the support to get out," says Staub-French.
Through a partnership with Safeteen International, Family Services conducts workshops in local schools intended to teach children how to keep themselves safe from sexual assault, sexual abuse and bullying. At the end of the workshop, they issue a questionnaire about its effectiveness and one of the questions they ask is whether the youth has a secret they're holding or something that's bothering them that they haven't talked to anyone about. Staff have been continually shocked by how many respondents answer yes.
"It's the youth who we can't get to and have them reach out to us to start a counselling process. Those are the ones we want to find a way to help. We know that youth are going to be the way to help us through social media and other technology," says Staub-French.
Family Services is currently seeking eight to 10 youth volunteers in grades 10 or 11 to form the advisory board and help staff develop new youth outreach strategies for the North Shore.
"We're looking for a very diverse group," says Staub-French, adding she suspects some of those who apply will have personal connections to the issues Family Services addresses - depression, anxiety and eating disorders, for example - either personally or through their friend and family networks.
"They get this great experience of how to be a really effective advocate for an issue," she says. "They get to be mentored by our staff, which are leaders in mental health issues. At the end of it, we all get to feel really good because maybe some kids and youth who were going to be isolated and not be able to reach out are able to reach out, begin counselling and get out of that place that they're at so they can have a successful life."
Youth-LAB members will have an opportunity to learn about mental health issues; design and deliver presentations on mental health topics to local organizations, politicians and schools; develop a communication and outreach plan (both social and traditional media); and, develop leadership, communication, and public speaking skills.
Youth-LAB is being supported by the CISCO Foundation, the Northshore Auto Mall and through donor support.
"We have been looking to do some volunteer work with youth but we have to find a way to fund that and thanks to them, we're now able to do this," says Staub-French.
Recruitment is currently underway and those who are interested should submit an application by Oct. 1. Those who are chosen will be asked to give 10 hours of their time per month and be available to meet the second Thursday of the month, starting Oct. 11. They'll also spend time with a Family Services staff member who will serve as their mentor, as well as the other Youth-LAB members. The program will run in line with the academic school year. Based on its success, it will be offered again, starting in fall 2013.
For more information, phone program co-ordinators Valerie Lev Dolgin or Erin Bruchet at 604-988-5281, or visit www. familyservices.bc.ca.