Making up approximately 13 per cent of the population, the voice of youth in Penticton isn’t always heard.
The YES (Youth Engagement Strategy) Project hopes to change that by providing resources for local youth and a platform for their voices to make a difference in the community.
Grade 12 student at Pen High, Emma Reiter, has been involved in the project since the very beginning as part of a focus group of 50 Penticton youth and 40 youth service providers.
“I grew up in this city and I’ve noticed there has never been much for youth to do,” Reiter said. “It was great to see there was a group of people and a large sum of money dedicated to youth and that we were considered important. I wanted to do anything I could to help out and get our message out there and make a change.”
Reiter sits as the only youth advisor on the steering committee for the project, as well as a youth advisor for the youth committee — a group of students dedicated to helping out with the project. Reiter is also largely involved in the activities committee, looking to create free activities for youth in Penticton.
“It’s really made me see this city in a different light because before I never really thought that the city officials or anybody really cared about youth, but I’ve been able to see how much everyone is willing to help out and let us know that we’re valued members of the community,” Reiter said.
The initiative was designed to support youth in Penticton to feel good about themselves and maintain positive self esteem. The project started with a report aimed at issues facing young people living in Penticton, opportunities and resources that build positive self esteem and what young people need to feel good about themselves.
The project originated from a bequest left to the Community Foundation and the United Way with the intent of helping youth in Penticton.
According to the report, there are 4,400 youth (ages 12-18) currently living in Penticton. The report also states that for every one youth living in Penticton there are two senior citizens.
One major finding is a lack of youth emergency shelter services.
“In Penticton, if youth are under 18 and if they are not with a parent, they can’t access the emergency shelters in Penticton,” Amberlee Erdmann, YES project coordinator, said. “Basically, there is a lack of support for youth for emergency shelters. So they either end up on the street or end up in unhealthy living situations.”
The report also found that there is a 90 per cent increase in youth related crimes in the summer months, due to a lack of structured free activities. The report also states there are significant mental health challenges for Penticton youth and a limited number of resources available for them.
The YES project is making headway with these issues and have hired a youth engagement worker, Melissa Redsern.
“She has her cellphone and goes around to the schools, and hopefully the beaches, and will basically be a friendly face in Penticton where youth can get support,” Erdmann said.
Erdmann said support may take many forms including counselling, referrals to programs or a sympathetic ear if a youth just needs someone to talk to.
Long term, the YES project has sights set on building a youth resource centre in Penticton that would act as a hub for arts and culture activities but also encompass emergency youth shelter services.
The project is also featuring the YES Youth of the Week with Sun FM and the Penticton Western News, an awareness program highlighting a different outstanding youth in the community every Thursday (Friday in the Western News) falling under one of three categories: outstanding personal growth, dedication to a healthy lifestyle and a desire to give back.
The program is still accepting applications for outstanding community youth to be featured during the 13-week campaign. Nominations can be made at www.pentictonyouth.ca.
“The whole point of the campaign is to let Penticton know that there are outstanding youth in our community,” Erdmann said.
For more information visit www.pentictonyouth.ca.