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Helping vulnerable youth stay connected

Transitioning to physical distancing has been difficult for our communities, and it has been perhaps most challenging for young people across our region. 

Due to COVID-19, youth have been stripped of their social connections, at a time when relationships are of utmost importance to their personal development, well-being, and sense of self. 

Youth who are experiencing mental health challenges are particularly at risk, as they have been disconnected from their counselors. Some are living in poverty without access to their education and peers because they don’t have a computer. Without proper guidance and support, many at-risk young people are susceptible to falling back into unhealthy patterns and behaviours.

Specifically, youth who have had encounters with the law—who are often ostracized and pushed to the margins of society—have more difficulty connecting with their regular coping mechanisms and support systems during COVID-19. 

Two months into the pandemic, Marisa Moher and her team at youturn are doing their very best to ensure their young, at-risk clients have the tools they need to access virtual support, and avoid falling through the cracks.

A safe haven

In normal times, youturn works closely with at-risk youth and young people who have been involved with the justice system to help them overcome their hardships, develop healthy habits and interpersonal skills, and get their lives back on track. The counsellors at youturn understand and empathize with their clients, focusing first on relationship building, and addressing their individual needs.

“Lots of in-person support leads to a really strong foundation to build relationships with our youth.”

Missing connections

Many of the youth youturn works with come from low-income households where access to technology is restricted or shared. Many youth borrow their parents’ cellphones when they need it—resulting in a lack of privacy and confidentiality about the challenges they may be dealing with. 

Other young people don’t have homes—meaning internet access is nonexistent, and smartphone and computer use is likely limited and inconsistent. 

For youturn, staying in touch with their clients is difficult when technology is not equally accessible to everyone. 

“Now that we only have the option of offering virtual support, we need to have technology as a resource if we are going to accept new referrals.”

That’s where Ruckify comes in

Early in our COVID-19 response, United Way East Ontario partnered with Ruckify—the world’s largest online, peer-to-peer rental marketplace—to find solutions for the technology barriers many frontline agencies were facing after physical distancing measures started. 

Through its online rental platform, Ruckify offers individuals and companies the opportunity to rent out and donate devices like smartphones, tablets, and laptops to local social service providers and vulnerable people who may not have the right technology in place to go fully virtual for their appointments, outreach and programming. 

After identifying her organization’s challenges at the COVID-19 Community Response Table, United Way connected Marisa with Ruckify, to ensure youturn’s clients could continue to connect with the help they need, when they need it most.

Within 24 hours of speaking with a Ruckify representative, Marisa had cellphones delivered to her door to distribute to the youth they were starting to lose contact with. 

Ruckify’s quick turn-around and helpful customer service made sure youturn’s clients have a secure way of getting in contact with their counselors. Additionally, with her new connections at Ruckify, Marisa knows youturn now has the proper resources to take on new clients, even through physical distancing limitations. 

United Way’s COVID-19 Community Response Table helped Marisa find the tools she needed to adapt youturn’s services.

Given that the information is shifting so quickly, it’s important that agencies can come together in a centralized place to share resources, and highlight wins and losses,” says Marisa. “By having weekly meetings we’re able to hear what other agencies are struggling with, and it makes you feel as though you’re not alone—it’s comforting to hear that other agencies are going through the same thing.”

An ongoing need

We’re still looking for donations or rentals of laptops, webcams, tablets and most importantly, smartphones, so we can continue to reach the most vulnerable in our community, who are isolated and at-risk without technology. 

These donations are critical to maintaining connections between youth and the vital services that keep them thriving during this difficult time.

If you are or know of a business willing to donate or rent out electronic devices that are currently sitting unused, we welcome your participation! Anyone interested can fill out the online form on Ruckify’s Community Relief page. These donations will help even more people in need stay connected through COVID-19 and physical distancing measures. 

For many weeks now, United Way East Ontario has been bringing together a table of public health authorities, municipalities, frontline social service agencies, corporate partners, and many others. Before the pandemic had started to affect Ottawa and the surrounding region, United Way pulled together this growing group to address the social needs in our communities, while public health authorities took on the health needs. 

In the same way we worked together with our communities to support Syrian refugees, to recover after the 2018 tornadoes, and to rebuild after the 2019 floods, we are again working diligently to support the most vulnerable through this unparalleled event.

With so many engaged partners like Ruckify who bring creative solutions to the table, we are able to respond quickly to the needs as we identify them, and ensure that the at-risk youth and many others are not forgotten.




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