A coalition of care

3 MIN READ

“[During COVID-19,] a lot of kids are basically just bussing in and bussing out [of school] and have a real lack of interaction outside of school. For other children that are just doing virtual learning, if they live outside of town, they’re basically stranded.”

— Andrew Wilson, Program Coordinator, Lanark County Youth Centre Coalition

For 12-year-old Mario, the bi-weekly meal night offered at the YAK Youth Centre has been an exciting staple in his pandemic routine. The food skills sessions help youth gain valuable experience in nutrition, meal planning and more, while keeping kids safely connected to services and supports in their community. 

Mario at the YAK Youth Centre in Perth

When public health restrictions prevent it, and for kids who can’t attend in-person, Zoom cooking classes and at-home meal kits ensure they can still participate and connect with other young people online. 

Children who grow up in rural communities often face barriers to accessing local programs that give them a safe and supportive place to go after school—especially during the pandemic. Commutes to programs are often lengthy, access to a stable internet is not always possible, and costs are a challenge for many families.  

With support from United Way East Ontario, five youth centres have banded together to provide top-tier, accessible, virtual and in-person programming for youth all across Lanark County, during COVID-19 and beyond. 

Going the extra kilometer, so kids don’t have to 

Across Prescott-Russell, Ottawa, Lanark and Renfrew Counties, 37,245 kids live in low-income situations, meaning many of them may not have access to the necessary supports that ensure a path to success. For many kids, after-school programs are a safe and engaging place to get help with homework, connect with other kids outside of the classroom, and build trusting relationships with mentors and adults.  

Youth programs have had to adapt significantly since the start of the pandemic to make sure kids don’t fall through the cracks.  

With support from United Way and the Government of Canada’s Emergency Community Support Fund, the Carleton Place Youth Centre, the Mississippi Mills Youth Centre, the YAK Youth Centre, the Lanark Highlands Youth Centre and the WAK Youth Program banded together to form the Lanark County Youth Centre Coalition. Their collective efforts have increased training opportunities for staff and volunteers, and enabled them to share community resources and enhance program capacity—ensuring no child gets left behind during COVID-19. 

“One of the big shifts is trying to put online as much as we can, because we know some youth aren’t able to come into town as much.”

— Andrew Wilson

Staying connected while apart 

Since the onset of COVID-19, the Lanark County Youth Centre Coalition has helped meet the needs of youth where they are. Many kids report feeling “Zoomed out,” so connecting with them in a meaningful way requires persistence and creativity. 

A family enjoying their meal kit from home

To help them stay engaged, staff have created online activities guided by youth interests. These “virtual clubs” combat social isolation and build trust between kids and youth centre staff, allowing them to better understand the challenges kids are facing and offer appropriate support. 

Many online programs are supplemented by an in-person aspect, too, when public health guidance allows. For example, the meal program Mario participates in often takes place at the youth centre, but also empowers kids to participate remotely. Staff deliver meal kits to kids’ homes, which gives them an opportunity to conduct an in-person wellness check, and then the cooking class is broadcast to them through Zoom.  

Hybrid activities like “Meal Night” are shared in a collective calendar by the Lanark County Youth Centre Coalition across all five youth centres. This means kids like Mario have access to more programs and services than ever before, no matter where they are in Lanark County.  

“With United Way’s support we have been able to more effectively share resources, work more efficiently and bring a multitude of programs online.”

— Andrew Wilson

A community wide effort 

From the very beginning of the pandemic, United Way has worked with our community partners to ensure children and youth have safe spaces to learn, grow, and lead. Addressing learning loss for vulnerable children and youth is one of our priorities for the coming months, knowing that many kids have disengaged from learning over the past year. 

The Lanark County Youth Centre Coalition continues to mentor youth and build skills and confidence, while providing more than 600 meals each week to low-income and isolated youth, families and seniors across Lanark County. 

Together with your support, we give kids a chance to succeed—no matter their income, what neighbourhood they live in, or their background. 

Support kids in your community. 

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