This is a generation-defining time: COVID-19 is having a devastating and inequitable impact on communities around the world, and young people are among the hardest hit by closures and disruptions. At YPI Canada we are engaged in ongoing critical reflection on the long-term of the pandemic on youth, and what can be done to mitigate these effects. We have taken to heart the urgent call from the UN to “Maintain or increase funding and investments in young people’s health, education and skills development, entrepreneurship, and expand their employment opportunities, improve work conditions, and enhance their civic participation.”
We know first-hand the positive outcomes that authentic, hands-on youth civic engagement programming can have for students, especially when it includes a real-life platform for youth people to get involved in their communities and to stand up for causes that matter to them. We are hearing from our network of educators and students that, unfortunately, there are fewer opportunities like this available this year: extracurriculars are limited; in-person volunteer opportunities are not possible; leadership development opportunities have been cancelled. Despite the challenges associated with condensed schedules and online or blended coursework, many educators have told us they are grateful to be able to participate in YPI this year, as it is one of the only opportunities for their students to connect in an authentic way with their community, to engage in a real-world project with real-world impact.
We remain committed to supporting students, teachers, and their schools navigate through this difficult and uncertain year, with responsiveness, compassion, and flexibility. You can learn more about how we’ve adapted in response to COVID-19 in our YPI Canada 2020/21 Program Guidelines which includes a modified and condensed version of the YPI curriculum that centres equity and justice in a new and deeply intentional way. . If you are new to YPI, and would like to learn more or to enroll your school, you can book an informational call with our friendly Program Team.
We are not alone in this work: There are organizations in our network of participating charities, many of them BIPOC-led and based in allyship with communities hit hardest by the pandemic, doing incredible work this year to support youth with opportunities to get involved in their communities, explore their interests, and develop 21st century skills. Here are three examples of charities doing excellent work, and how you can get involved:
Jack.org is a national, youth-focused mental health organization which trains young people to be leaders, advocates and public speakers on the topics of mental health and stigma. They also convene young people through school-based and community chapters across Canada to raise awareness and break down barriers around mental health. During the pandemic, they’ve moved programming online, including hosting virtual summits, and creating an online resource library so that “distancing” doesn’t have to mean “isolated”. Check out their toolkit for talking about mental health with peers, family and friends on the dedicated website BeThere.org.
Helping Hands is a grassroots, youth civic engagement organization led by young women of colour and based out of the Greater Toronto Area which matches young people to volunteer opportunities where they can build skills, leadership and networks based on their interests. They provide continuity beyond the initial match, ensuring that youth have support to reflect on and consolidate their hands-on learning. This year, Helping Hands is working to connect eager helpers with communities most in need, and they are in the final stages of launching a beta volunteer matching app for mobile. Visit helpinghandsapp.com to look for volunteer placements, request a student workshop at your school, or to get on the list for exclusive early access to the app as a beta tester.
Visions of Science Network for Learning (VoSNL) is a groundbreaking organization in the Greater Toronto Area working to advance the educational achievement and positive development of youth in marginalized communities through engagement in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields. Their youth-leading-youth model has made the shift to virtual meetings for weekly STEM Clubs, where STEM Community Leaders (grades 8-12) act as role models and facilitators for younger kids (grades 3-7) as they learn and grow through fun hands-on experiments. With the move online, some of the STEM Community Leaders have also been blogging about virtual internships – read through the Youth Column for awesome examples of accessible #ScienceCommunication, which demystify STEM career pathways and even introduce some cool experiments you can do at home.