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West Vancouver youth committees continue meaningful work during pandemic

Despite all the changes and challenges the pandemic has brought for these teens, it hasn’t dulled their spirit in striving to make a difference for their community and their peers.
Forest cleanup
West Vancouver youth committees took part in a number of cleanup initiatives.

A handful of secondary students in West Vancouver have shared their thoughts and feelings about COVID-19 while giving an update on the meaningful work they’ve still managed to achieve as members of the district’s youth committees.

Despite all the changes and challenges the pandemic has brought for these teens, it hasn’t dulled their spirit in striving to make a difference for their community and their peers.

In an update to council at the April 26 general meeting students on three youth committees shared how they’ve been maintaining connections, helping others, and continuing to learn and grow within the community safely over the past year during pandemic life.

The main goal of the committees is to build a community of young people who are connected, aware, and informed, said Alison Gelz, district Youth Services and Community Recreation manager, at the meeting. She said the youngsters were the voice for youth and the advocates for youth programs and services in West Van.

“It's a crazy time, man,” Freya, a West Vancouver student and representative for the Whatever Youth Committee, said when asked about COVID at the council meeting.

“I think I've, kind of, just been trying to get my brain to process what's been happening, and sometimes what's actually been on my mind a lot is, you know, what would my life be like if COVID didn't have the impact it does today,” she said.

“What would have happened to today's society and the economy?”

She said she’d been thinking about the world in general during the pandemic and trying to pluck out the positives.

“Even though COVID has had quite a negative impact, I think, at the same time, there are some positive aspects to it,” she said. “It’s caused us to open our eyes a lot more and to focus on the people, to focus on just the world in general.

“We're all part of this one big planet and we all affect one another.”

West Van youth committees make a positive difference 

But the teens haven’t just been thinking, they’ve been taking actions through their youth committees to stay engaged and help fellow students and community members in COVID-friendly ways in a time where so many are feeling isolated.  

Freya explained that ‘Whatever’ creates an inclusive and safe space for LGBTQIA2S+ youth and plans and promotes activities and events to help raise community awareness.

“Due to COVID-19 we had to adapt to virtual meetings in the spring and summer of 2020, but in the fall, earlier this year we've had a variety of movie nights, game nights and group activities for our youth,”  she said.

She highlighted that something the group really enjoyed was a virtual event series called ‘Proud to Be.’

“Whatever has helped me and other newcomers know that we aren't alone,” Freya said. “It's allowed us to connect with other youth who are part of the community

Melody, Grade 8 student at Sentinel Secondary School shared what the Student Work Advisory Team, a youth committee with the West Vancouver Police Department, has been busy doing.

She said members of SWAT had taken part in a variety of interesting and engaging training exercises and information sessions on policing and policing methods, engaged with online training with the North Shore Black Bear Society and participated in park cleanups in Ambleside Park, and on Earth Day at John Lawson Park as part of Mayor Booth’s community cleanup challenge.

Over the holiday season, this youth group also helped out local seniors.  

“We worked together to create food, clothing and small household item hampers for seniors at the [West Vancouver] Seniors Activity Centre, which were then delivered to said seniors in need,” Melody said.

Most recently, the group worked with to encourage their school-aged peers to do the Do1Give challenge on April 21 – the initiative is a global giving event that amplifies the impact of small daily giving around the world on one day.

“We did this by giving out a bingo card and encouraging kids to pitch in and help their school communities, their neighbours, and families by completing helpful and caring tasks,” Melody explained.

“Almost 150 bingo cards were returned to the police department on April 21, and we were able to track over 1,800 acts of kindness completed.”

She said the group had been “pretty busy” but it had also been “really fun” contributing to the community and learning from the police.

“We still have a few meetings left this year in which we're hoping to learn even more about policing and continue making a difference in the community,” she said.

Similarly, the Youth Advisory Committee – like-minded youth interested in civic engagement, community leadership, and local government – also shared they’d taken part in beach and park cleanups as well as creating comfort kits for the Lookout Housing and Health Society over the festive season.

Parnian, a Grade 12 student at West Vancouver Secondary, and a representative for YAC,  said the committee had also worked with youth services staff to help develop a social media presence on Instagram to communicate with youth regarding municipal issues and to bring a youth perspective into the recreation and community program.

On top of this, they also assisted with to develop mentoring career-specific promotional videos and marketing to encourage other youth, students, children, and their families to participate in Do1Give Day.

School life has been a little more stressful 

While the students have been doing all these great initiatives through their youth committees, they expressed they’d also felt the weight of COVID on their school lives.  

Melody expressed that having the youth committee was a highlight during a time where many of the activities she’d been looking forward to in her first year at Sentinel could no longer go ahead.

“I've been waiting, I've been waiting, I've been waiting, and then all of a sudden to find out that so many activities that I was looking forward to are cancelled,” she said.

“I mean, obviously, especially my school is doing a great job of trying to keep all those activities open, but it's just … it's a little underwhelming.”

She added the new quarter system had increased pressure, stress and created a harder workload.  

Parnian, a graduating student at West Vancouver Secondary, agreed the switch to a quarter system had been stressful at first.

“I think that at the beginning I had a lot of stress around it being a new quarter system,” she said, adding that during the pandemic she had found it harder to navigate her plans and decide what she wanted to do in the future, but it all found a way to sort itself out.

“Once school started and we were able to see our friends again or teachers and get involved in the activities … like YAC … I think that I was able to find a lot more clarity and I kind of have a plan for next year which is really nice.”

Marin, a grade nine student at Rockridge Secondary, who is part of YAC, also agreed that COVID had created a more stressful environment at school.

“Especially in the last couple of weeks, with new variants in school, school has become, like, a stressful environment to be at,” she said.

“I think two or three weeks ago in my grade alone there was like, 12 COVID cases, and I wasn't impacted by any but, um, for me personally that's been difficult because I'm in a couple out of school activities that are in school. I'm in my school theatre company and if someone in my theatre company who was in Grade 10 got COVID, then a lot of people in the theater company, even though they weren't in classes, need to isolate.

“But it's OK and obviously we're so grateful to be going to school because I know for a lot of people that is not the case.”

She added she was “really happy with the way schools are handling things right now.”

“It makes us all feel very hopeful,” Marin said.

The YAC committee has also been working hard to develop and plan all the aspects of its upcoming virtual youth council meeting to mark Youth Week - May 1 to 7 - and to prepare the Youth Appreciation Awards.

To hear more from West Vancouver youth, register to tune in to the Virtual Youth Council Meeting, which takes place on May 5 from 6 to 7 p.m., in which the committee will discuss something important to youngsters in the community. Youth are also invited to register for a free Whatever Rec Night on Saturday, May 8 from 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. 

Elisia Seeber is the North Shore News’ Indigenous and civic affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.