From virtual workshops to goodie bag deliveries, students from Niagara College are helping to brighten the lives of local youth, in partnership with Niagara-based agencies.
About 50 students from NC’s Child and Youth Care (CYC) program have been working with local agencies with a focus on giving back to the community. After spending 10 hours per week on the project since January, their efforts are culminating in various remote initiatives during Niagara’s elementary and high school spring break week April 12-17.
It’s all part of NC’s new Giving Back Project. Recently launched by program staff, faculty members and administrators, the new project helps to address limited placement opportunities for CYC students during the pandemic while helping community youth. Small groups of students were assigned to work with different local agencies, assess a community need, and find out how they can best support the agency by mobilizing resources and building social capital.
The CYC students are hosting a roster of initiatives during the April break: four with The RAFT Community programs in St. Catharines and Niagara Falls, and others with the John Howard Society of Niagara and Youth Wellness Hub Niagara, Faith Welland, and Our Centre (a foster care agency).
“Through the Giving Back Project, our students have the opportunity to gain real-world applied experience in community support and implementation, and a further understanding of the role they can play as Child and Youth Care practitioners,” said Carol Phillips, associate dean, School of Community Services. “Through their initiatives, our students work on building opportunities to engage with community members, and provide services, information and – most importantly – human connection.”
CYC field placement officer and part-time professor Sherry Visser-Fleming noted that while students would have typically completed their placements with local after-school programs, the new project is an exciting way for them to gain experience and complete their required placement hours during the pandemic while making a difference in the community. Students have an opportunity to be on the front line and work with children and families, build rapport and work on interpersonal relationships.
“It’s exciting when you see the students getting pumped up about what they’re doing, and really connecting to our community,” said Visser-Fleming. “It’s so important to give back to the community and very empowering for our students to be part of amazing initiatives like these.”
Due to the evolving nature of the pandemic, CYC students have faced the challenge of planning for different scenarios based on current public health guidelines. Several initiatives that were planned earlier in the term needed to be changed due to the provincial shutdown announced on April 1 and further modified following the provincial stay-at-home order, which went into effect on April 8.
It’s all valuable experience for CYC students as they complete their first program placement before moving onto their second during the Fall term. “When they are able to go into classrooms, they will bring along the knowledge and experience they have gained working with local agencies and learning about the support mechanisms in place within our region,” said Visser-Fleming.
John Howard Society of Niagara and Youth Wellness Hub Niagara
Learning to cook was on the menu for youth at the John Howard Society of Niagara (JHSN) and Youth Wellness Hub of Niagara, which helps improve mental health and addiction services. On April 12, CYC students hosted a virtual cooking workshop on how to make chili.
Participants were provided with a recipe, tools and ingredients to learn that cooking from scratch does not have to be difficult or expensive, and is more nutritious than takeout or processed foods. A video cooking lesson from a chef professor at NC’s Canadian Food and Wine Institute – specially recorded for the project – included step-by-step instructions on how to prepare, handle, cook and store the food.
To support the effort, CYC students asked for donations of time, funds or supplies; and approached local farmers for donated vegetables. They purchased groceries, prepared and packed ingredients into kits and delivered them, which enabled participants to join the workshop from their homes. They also sought out local businesses to help make them aware of JHSN and Contact Niagara.
CYC student Sarah Sotto noted that she was proud to help youth learn a new skill while broadening her own horizons.
“The experience from the Giving Back Project will help me gain experience with communicating professionally as well as facilitating therapeutic activity programs such as this,” she said. “I am a very shy person but this project allowed me to step out of my comfort zone, speaking to people from our school, agencies, local businesses and more.”
JHSN youth services supervisor Caroline Graham said the workshop proved to be a great virtual event for all who attended. “It provided the youth with the skills and the information from start to finish in creating a healthy meal for themselves and their families,” said Graham.
She also noted that working with NC students has been a positive experience and she hoped that they learned more about their organization. “They have been very professional, flexible based on our needs as well as the current landscape due to COVID,” said Graham. “It’s nice to see them stepping up and working toward a common goal.”
The Youth Wellness Hub Niagara is a collaboration between Contact Niagara, The John Howard Society of Niagara and Centre de Santé Communautaire, with support from others including CASON, Pathstone, and Positive Living.
The RAFT – Manchester Site
Local youth within the RAFT Manchester community were treated to virtual science experiments on April 16. Mini helicopter and walking water experiments were conducted by CYC students via Zoom. Participants were able to follow along using kits full of supplies which were assembled and delivered them by the CYC students.
“The event is really about giving the kids an opportunity to enjoy themselves and have some fun,” said CYC student Hannah Sorrell, who noted that the agency has not been able to host any major events due to COVID-19. “We are hoping this event will raise some awareness and support for the agency from the community.”
Sorrell aims to work as a child and youth counsellor someday and values the experience she gained through the Giving Back Project. “Working directly with an agency to meet the needs for the youth feels really connected to my career goal,” she said. “By being a part of this program, I feel that I can do my part by being there to help.”
The Raft Manchester After School program provides free access to education and pro-social skills programs and services that promote healthier lifestyles and encourage academic success, based at a community house in St. Catharines in partnership with Niagara Regional Housing.
“The Giving Back Project has allowed the children and youth living in the Manchester Community to participate in an exciting, interactive and educational virtual program,” said Melissa Debruin, manager, after-school programs at The Raft. “This has been a tough year for our families and we are so grateful for the work NC students are putting in to provide a fun and valuable experience for our participants. The virtual event allowed our participants to safely socialize with their friends as well as engage in some fun science activities during their spring break.”
Faith Welland Church
Since they couldn’t welcome local youth in-person, CYC students decided to bring the fun to them. A group of CYC students are preparing goodie bags and prepackaged activities to drop off to the homes of Faith Welland’s youth community on April 17. The kits will include snacks, colouring pages, stickers, crayons and markers, as well as personalized cards for each recipient, and links to YouTube videos that students can watch from home, including a musical performance from Zan.
Faith Welland Church has a mission to reach out to those in need and create opportunities for families, and supports more than 120 local children and youth (age five to 18) through its programs and services. CYC students wanted to plan a fun initiative to support local children and youth after they explored the stresses they face. The drop-off initiative replaces a walk-through fun fair CYC students had originally planned for the church’s McLaughlin Street location.
“We switched multiple times to accommodate the COVID-19 rules and guidelines however, we as a group believe that we are still making it a fun and positive event for giving back to the community,” said CYC student Spencer Russell.
To prepare for the initiative, NC students asked for donations, and gathered items for goodie bags with food provided by Small Scale Farms as well as toys and activities for families to enjoy. They also contacted community agencies for information about their resources.
“The idea that we can give back to our community and relieve children of their daily stresses for one day has been a rewarding prospect,” said Russell. “We also hope to achieve skills when it comes to planning events and working with agencies that will benefit us for the rest of our schooling and even our career.”
Faith Welland program coordinator Rylan Johnson noted that by working with NC students, they hoped to provide a family fun event for children and youth, while giving the CYC students an opportunity to develop their leadership and organizational skills, and heighten their awareness of needs among children and youth. “By planning and facilitating this event, they are providing an additional event for our families, beyond what we are able to provide with our current resources,” said Johnson. “I have thoroughly enjoyed working with the NC students in this group. I really appreciate hearing their ideas and how they can support our families.”
Child and Youth Care is a three-year advanced diploma program delivered in six consecutive terms (24 months). Through therapeutic programming and processes, students learn to engage purposefully and effectively to facilitate growth and positive life change in the development of healthy emotional, social, behavioural and developmental well-being. Students gain more than 800 hours of in-field experience through program placement opportunities.
Niagara College offers more than 130 diploma, bachelor degree and advanced level programs; as well as more than 600 credit, vocational and general interest Part-Time Studies courses. Areas of specialization include food and wine sciences, advanced technology, media, applied health and community safety, supported by unique learning enterprises in food, wine, beer, distilling, horticulture and esthetics. For more information visitniagaracollege.ca.