PolicyWise in conversation with our community partners from Grande Prairie community-led youth mental health hubs: Youth Voices members Alex and Charla Savoury, and Julia Turgeon the community coordinator.
“Almost therapeutic,” is how Alex describes her experience of Grande Prairie Youth Voices, the youth engagement group for the Youth Mental Health Hubs. She continues, “we get together and mostly talk. We learn about each other.” Charla chimes in: “I didn’t know that in the French immersion program there aren’t enough tutors for math or French. Now that we know, we can do something about that.”
Representatives from the Youth Voices bring their ideas, concerns, and priorities for youth mental health to the Steering Committee meetings. That is where the community organizations make decisions about the integrated hubs. Youth have been there since the beginning. “When we make suggestions, people ask us questions. They don’t cut our ideas down even if they’re not that great yet. They help us to make them better and then the committee acts on them.”
Among the youth’s proudest accomplishments are initiating a support group for youth with learning disabilities, yoga and ice cream events, and Community Helpers, a peer mental health support training. “I missed that one,” Alex explained, “I heard that was really good!” Confidence, communication and collaboration skills, and a chance to make a difference in youth mental health in their community are what Charla and Alex say they’ve gained through the experience.
“We need to offer youth something in return for their participation,” Julia, the hubs coordinator, explains, “It doesn’t have to be money. It can be mentorship or growth opportunities.” Also, food and flexibility are a must when engaging youth. They’re not typically available from 9-5 like many adults. Zoom – as much as it has presented challenges to building relationships – has also removed barriers to attendance.
“Give youth space. And, know that trust and the confidence to speak up takes time to develop,” Julia recommends. All three agree that you can’t rush the process. Given time and space great things will come from meaningful youth engagement when working toward community-led collaborative service delivery.