The kind of activity in which a youth is engaged can be almost anything – recreational activities, sports, artistic endeavors, volunteer work, politics, social activism - and it can occur in almost any kind of setting. Youth engagement is the meaningful participation and sustained involvement of a young person in an activity, with a focus outside of themselves.
Using YMCA Canada’s Healthy Children and Youth Strategy as a framework, the YMCA of Western Ontario has chosen four areas of Youth Engagement to develop and implement within our association:
A Common Approach
As we Build Relationships, Create Opportunities for Play, and Advocate for Health, it’s vital that we collectively have a common approach to achieving our goals.
The YMCA’s mission to help other’s grow in spirit, mind and body is intricately linked to how and why we want to engage with youth. Having a common language and a common approach to working with children and youth is the first step in creating a youth-focused culture. Having a common approach to working with children and youth will allow for shared understanding, learning, attitudes and philosophies around youth development.
Program Quality & Program Integration
Our goal is to offer programs and services to all ages; to build people’s character at every stage of life, and to foster life-long YMCA membership.
The YMCA of Western Ontario will be taking a close look at our current programs, and evaluating our Youth offerings and services. As young people become teenagers, the way they process information changes, resulting in changes in their relationships with peers, their perception of themselves, and their understanding of risk. As an ever-present part of a young person’s life, risk-taking can be a powerful reason to get engaged, to stay engaged, and a way to explore and learn. Risk taking can be positive or negative, and at the YMCA it’s important that programs allow for positive risk-taking and engagement in a safe, controlled, welcoming environment.
If we want to fully engage youth within our organization, everyone needs to become an advocate and supporter of the young citizens of our community.
Over 5% of Londoners do not speak either of Canada’s official languages, which limits their ability to participate fully in our community. The number of children and youth coming into the care of the Child Aid Society of London & Middlesex increased 70% over a six-year period. About 16% of London youth between the ages of 15-19 are dealing with depression, compared to 11% nationally. In London, that’s over 15,000 youth. We need to work with our youth in ways that develops their leadership skills and gives them the support and resources to transition into adulthood. We need to bring youth into the conversation, and listen to what they have to say. Starting a YMCA Youth Council is just the beginning!
Whether we are partnering with parents, other YMCAs, school boards, Universities and Colleges, or community agencies, our mission, vision and Youth Strategy will position us as leaders in youth development.
As we build global citizens and embrace youth culture, the YMCA will be relying on our strong internal and external partnerships. Internally, there are many ways we can strengthen our relationships – departmental sharing and cross-departmental initiatives are going to become an exciting part of our collaborative work. Partnering with other service providers and other organizations that work with youth with allow for greater opportunities.
Join us at the YMCA of Western Ontario…where young people are agents of their own development.
~Laura Hamilton, Director, Camping & Youth Engagement