Hamilton, ON (August 28, 2020) – Nestled in Hamilton’s North End, the Welcome Inn Community Centre has been a long-time resource for marginalized residents in the area and local families in crisis. Its inherent culture of reciprocity makes Welcome Inn unique, as many of the people who rely on its services are also volunteers, some donating full-time hours to give back to their own community.
This principle of walking alongside the people in the North End, and promoting wellness and resilience, is at the heart of a new youth engagement program called the Youth Resiliency Team, developed by Welcome Inn’s Executive Director, James VanderBerg, and Program Coordinator, Natalie Barcellos.
Funded by the Hamilton-Oshawa Port Authority (HOPA Ports), the program is designed to equip a small but dedicated group of North End teens with knowledge and training around coping with mental health challenges, and enable them to become leaders and advocates within their community.
Some of the program topics include:
- What is Mental Health?
- Managing Stress
- Seeking Help
- Active Listening
- Mental Health and Social Media
Prior to the COVID lockdown, James VanderBerg and Natalie Barcellos consulted with local youth focus-groups to help redefine what their youth program would – or should – become. Through these conversations and survey results, they learned mental health was the clear topical front-runner, and it’s not hard to understand why, as Ward 2 “sees the highest number of emergency room visits for children aged 4 to 18 for drug-related mental and behavioural disorders.” These numbers have been rising in Hamilton since 2014, according to the City of Hamilton’s Child and Youth Health Atlas.
Although the program was originally set to launch in the fall, COVID and the suspension of non-curricular activities have delayed the program’s start date until the new year, when extracurriculars are hopefully back up and running. In 2021, the leadership at Welcome Inn will work with local schools and families to select the program’s ten facilitators, providing training, creating opportunities for youth-led initiatives and projects, and encouraging the development of a supportive, outward-facing peer-to-peer network.
The Team members will address mental health and mental illness through education, leadership and advocacy; taking information and skills gleaned from training to create, plan and deliver their own mental health initiatives to support other high schoolers.
“In researching other youth programs in the area, we found there was a gap in the mental health resources for Hamilton’s youth, and peers would be the first group a teen would tap into when seeking help or talking about these issues,” said Natalie Barcellos, a University of Guelph grad who led the program’s development. In talking about her future goals for the Youth Resiliency Team, she continued, “I really hope the first few cohorts are able to help their peers with new knowledge about how to navigate complex emotional and mental health issues with positive coping strategies while in high school and well into adulthood.”
“There is no play book for this kind of thing,” echoed Welcome Inn Executive Director, James VanderBerg. “This team will receive education and training that can be translated into real life. Not only will the youth be taking this knowledge and turning it outwards as community advocates, they will also be more self-aware in dealing with their own challenges.”
As a long-time community partner and neighbour in the North End, the Hamilton-Oshawa Port Authority was an enthusiastic supporter. “We are so pleased to see the level of thoughtful and methodical care Welcome Inn has invested in this youth mental health program,” said HOPA Ports’ Communications & Community Relations Coordinator, Emily Paivalainen. “Although the formal start has been pushed back, there could not be a better time for it. We know the value that Welcome Inn brings to the neighbourhood, and firmly believe the Youth Resiliency Team will positively impact Hamilton’s youth who may be struggling.”
The Youth Resiliency Team’s program curriculum is based on the Youth Mental Health and Addictions Champions Toolkit, which was created by the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario (RNAO), and informed by youth engagement research from the Ontario Centre of Excellence for Child and Youth Mental Health. The program’s initiatives will be facilitated by the Youth Resiliency Team’s teen members, and run broadly throughout Hamilton’s high schools downtown.
Together with the community, Welcome Inn works to alleviate poverty, loneliness, and marginalization. By offering supportive relationships, promoting wellness, and providing capacity-building opportunities, Welcome Inn is building community resilience in a post-COVID time. To learn more about Welcome Inn, please visit their website. If you can afford to give, please do. https://welcomeinn.ca/donate/
Communications & Community Relations Coordinator
Tel: (289) 659-8225