In planning an expansion of its services, Choices for Youth (CFY) has held consultations with hundreds of people throughout the province to determine how best the organization can meet the needs of vulnerable youth living outside the St. John’s region. Their consultations took CFY staff to various communities in Labrador in 2017.
“I spent time in Labrador City. I’ve been to Goose Bay a few times. Sheshatshiu and I’ve been up and down the coast,” CFY provincial expansion co-ordinator Joshua Smee said during a recent phone interview.
CFY is a non-profit, charitable, community-based (St. John’s) agency that provides housing and lifestyle development supports to at-risk youth.
In its recently released report, “We Are Ready”, CFY noted consultations were held with young people, government representatives, community agencies and businesses that work with youth.
Smee said while the report offers profiles focused on unique opportunities and challenges in each region, it also identified common themes that were present throughout each region.
The themes cover everything from challenges with mental health and addictions, to a growing drug crisis; from gaps in rural-urban connections to limited emergency infrastructure for youth who need to access services.
One of the important issues for youth in Labrador as well as other areas, he said, is the importance of connection to the land.
“And people were telling us everywhere, including in Labrador, about the increasing struggles that young people are having with mental health, particularly with anxiety... and in a lot of communities, drugs and alcohol are a huge challenge. Young people all over the province are facing that challenge,” Smee said.
Young adults between the ages of 18-25 – in numerous regions of the province - are also finding it difficult to find safe places to spend time and to interact with people their own age, he said.
“There once were more youth centres and pool halls and alcohol-free spaces for them to spend time but that’s less common these days. And we certainly heard that in Labrador.”
Smee also heard a lot about the impact intergenerational trauma has on young people and how it affects their life.
“These are big challenges that people in Labrador face much more than young people on the island face,” he said.
Smee said he was impressed with some initiatives he learned about during his time in the Big Land.
“I was really struck by the way communities have pulled together and are doing some interesting work. They have this youth centre in Sheshatshiu where some amazing programs are happening. So, what we’re learning is how much we have to learn from organizations in Labrador about how to do this work,” he said.
It’s important, Smee said, to partner with local organizations in each area.
“Even when there aren’t so many formal services (for youth) as there are in St. John’s there are a ton of people trying to do things for youth. And we need those local folks to work with.”
As it sets its priorities for the future, CFY will decide where expansion is needed the most. The plan is to be active in six communities throughout the province within the next three years.
“It doesn’t mean that there will be six offices with Choices for Youth on the door. In some places it might be better for us to be in the background helping with training or helping people access funding. In some places it might make sense for us to have a more on-the-ground, rural, co-ordinating service for young people.”
Input gained from the consultation process will also allow CFY to share information with decision-makers about the supports at-risk youth need to succeed in life.
Smee said it’s not too late for people to have input into where the organization’s additional services will be offered.
The full report is available online at http://www.choicesforyouth.ca/expansion, and readers are encouraged to contact CFY with any feedback or ideas they have.
“We welcome as much feedback as we can possibly get, particularly from Labrador and Labradorians. We’d like them to read the report and tell us what we got right and what we got wrong,” he said.