When young people go back to school, our youth program kicks into high gear. Although we offer youth programs all year round, the school year is a particularly busy time of the year for us. Community Connections Youth Program Coordinator Karen Molina answers a few questions about this year’s slate of programs.

Q. How many programs do we have running at the moment?

A. We have six programs that run every week. They all happen in the evening, well after the school day has ended. We usually start at 6 p.m. and run until 7:30 p.m. We also have a seventh program in the works.

Q. What’s new for the year?

A. We are looking at how to ensure there is appropriate programming in place for Syrian youth and all newcomer youth. We all remember the influx of Syrian refugees in 2016. We are focused on how to get Syrian youth involved in their new community. We want to offer programs and services that help them connect and integrate. We are providing them also with a number of volunteer opportunities so they can develop their leadership skills and networks.

Q. Tell us about one program.

A. We have a girls’ drop-in program. There’s a huge need in some parts of the city; for example, in the Donald St. area where a lot of Syrian families have settled. Drop-in programs like ours provide the girls with an opportunity to develop life skills such as communication, conflict resolution, time management and other skills. There is also culture and language training. All of this can be challenging when you’re growing up in a new country. It’s a lot to handle for a young person.

Q. Why are these programs important to newcomer youth?

A. Programs are important to youth because they help young people connect to people their own age as well learn about Canadian culture and about the city. Programs also help ensure we keep young people out of trouble. We make sure they have the right tools to be successful, whether it’s at home, work or in school. When they first come to Canada, knowing the culture and the language is so important in order to thrive. Most importantly, these programs are providing young people with the opportunity to make mistakes in the program so that we can show them what to do out in the real world to be all that they can be.

Q. We’re running several programs in various communities. Why was that important to CCI?

A. The outreach has always been there but because we are looking at integration, we are also identifying more community programs and resources that we don’t offer that young people can connect with. By doing this, we’re connecting with other services and we’re also showing young people how to connect with these services in their neighbourhood. We won’t always be there for them. But if we show them what other services are available in their community, then we think there’s a benefit.

Q. How many young people will participate in our programs on average?

A. On a weekly basis there are about 40 young people. But it’s only our first month back. Although they start school in September, we want to give them time to have that month to settle into their new school year. Once we get into October, our programming ramps up. So, we will definitely see more youth as the school year progresses. Last year, we were seeing 60 to 70 students a week but the summer numbers skyrocketed. In one program we had 100 participants a week. From July to August we had 250 youth come out to our programs.

Q. What’s the one thing you would like to tell the community about youth newcomers?

A. What I would like to tell people is that young newcomers just want a chance like a lot of young people. They want to be understood and shown patience until thy figure out how to express themselves. There is a misconception that they are lazy, that they wants things done for them quickly. But what we’ve learned is that these young people have been working as early as four years of age, so lazy is the last thing anyone needs to think. They are actually bored because they aren’t as busy as they were used to. We’re not suggesting they should be working full-time jobs, but we recognize they need more than just school, as busy as that can be. They want and need to be part of our community. We need to show patience because they don’t always understand our culture and there are short-term language issues. Young newcomers also want to give back to their community so it’s why we offer them volunteer opportunities.

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If you would like to volunteer with our youth program, please fill out the form on our volunteer page.