Can Success Be Measured in Laughter & Carrots?

Can Success Be Measured in Laughter & Carrots?

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.”

A Barrie teen who was so inspired by the words of Dr. King, he applied to United Way Simcoe Muskoka for a Youth United grant to launch Sports Unlimited, a free sports drop-in program offering fun activities and a healthy snack – all designed to encourage healthy lifestyle choices.

“I hope to change kids’ lives,” he wrote in his grant application, voicing concern about drugs and a lack of no-cost activities for kids in Grades 6-8. “My group and I are the light and we will show them positive life skills.”

While sign-in sheets captured standard attendance data, he considered the sound coming from the gym as a key indicator of success.

“For example, if I heard loud laughter, I would know that there are a lot of kids in the gym having an awesome time,” he wrote in the program’s final report. He also recounted how the snacks participants arrived with evolved from junk food to apples and carrots.

Research supports his outlook. Author and educator-researcher Mary Kay Morrison says humour plays a strong role in human development. Morrison joins other humour advocates in this How Humour Affects Learning video to discuss its importance.

Youth Helping Youth

With UWSM’s Youth United funding, Sports Unlimited hosted its program at Barrie’s Community Wholeness Centre, with Youth Haven as its Community Advisor. In keeping with UWSM guidelines, all funded programs were connected with a local registered charity to oversee the distribution of the funds and to mentor youth along the way.

Six other Youth United programs also ran in 2017/2018.

Special Olympics Wants You!

One of the youth leading out this volunteer-recruitment initiative attended a Special Olympics conference in Calgary a few years ago and heard a message that sparked him into action: the organization, formed in the 1960s has an aging volunteer base and needs new people to fuel the future.

Information booths were set up at Eastview Secondary School and St. Joseph’s Catholic School, where student volunteers handed out information and nut-free chocolate chip cookies to initiate discussions about the importance of volunteering for Special Olympics.

Thirty-five volunteers invested 106 hours to spread the word. New volunteers were recruited and the information sharing opportunity was so well received and well attended, the team ran out of cookies.

Entrepreneurial Adventure

With a goal of providing youth participants with business skills and an opportunity to increase public awareness about youth mental health challenges, this team worked the Simcoe County District School Board at Midland’s Georgian Bay District Secondary School.

The Grade 9 business studies students worked to create a new chocolate bar called UpLift, with ingredients that promote calmness, clarity and positive energy. Inside each wrapper is a teen story about mental health challenges.

“By seeing the success of the project on social media, we also had other teachers reach out to us from other secondary schools who want to collaborate on the project to get something similar going for their school,” according to this team’s final report.”

Youth Food Justice Program

This group from Simcoe Alternative Secondary School in Collingwood focused on providing youth with access to healthy, local and affordable food choices – a demonstrated need for low-income families and individuals.

To this end, they hosted several community lunch/dinners for area youth in conjunction with Farm to Table and a local chef and included presentations highlighting how and where to access healthy food in the community.

Afterward, they reported success. “Our guest speakers were able to educate and get lots of responses from our audiences. Young people in the community now know where they can purchase healthy, local and sustainable food.”

CCI Mental Health Day

Students Advocating Non-Violence Everywhere (SANE) of Collingwood Collegiate Institute (CCI) used their Youth United grant to invite elementary students from CCI’s feeder schools to learn about the different resources in our community which are there to support them.

The team accessed compelling research from Canadian Mental Health Association that states:

  • An estimated 10-20% of Canadian youth are affected by a mental illness or disorder – the single most disabling group of disorders worldwide
  • In Canada, only 1 of 5 children who need mental health services receives them.

In return for the efforts of 20 students putting in 196 hours, 500 children participated in the day, which included a guest speaker, snack, and Zumba class. A follow-up survey was very positive and encouraged the organizers not to change a thing for the next event.

Fitness for Youth

In the south end of Barrie, a group of youth was interested in adapting the Barrie Community Health Centre’s successful Fitness for Health program for adults with chronic diseases, for adolescents aged 13-17 at no cost to participants.

The intent was to engage this age group, promote healthy living, and increase commitment to regular physical activity by enhancing their knowledge and confidence.

“The biggest highlight of this project was watching the participants come out of their comfort zone and become more confident with each other, with the team, and in the gym environment. Some of the kids were extremely shy at first, and by the end of the sessions, they were sad that it was ending. Above all else, Fitness for Youth was an extremely friendly, safe and fun place for the participants,” read the team’s final report.

The Lighthouse Saturday Community Lunches

Already a volunteer at The Lighthouse Soup Kitchen and Shelter, this team leader is 4th-year Georgian College student in Orillia, who is studying policing. Seeing client excitement for the monthly community dinner, he wanted to extend the program by adding a second community meal each month – but this time for a Saturday luncheon.

This project is currently underway with a lunch scheduled for the last Saturday of each month for the duration of the project.

The funding application asked youth leaders which of UWSM’s priority areas their project would address. This team stated: “Our Saturday Community Lunches will address poverty to possibility by welcoming clients to The Lighthouse and sharing our supports and many resources with them.”

Building Leadership

Each Youth United project is designed to improve the team’s local community for youth across or in UWSM’s service area (County of Simcoe, District of Muskoka and the Town of Blue Mountains). But the programs are not only FOR youth, but they’re BY youth as well.

Youth United Program Leaders

Each program is led by a team of youth who make change happen. Some of these young people are experienced team and project leaders, and some are just starting out this journey. Together with their teams and advisors, they plan, implement, face challenges and celebrate successes together.

The youth who initiated Sports Unlimited had this to say about his experience. “Even though some days the project looked a bit down and kids didn’t listen and I wanted to quit, I didn’t and I’m happy I didn’t because this camp has been one of the best experiences of my life.”

Youth Council

United Way Simcoe Muskoka invested $10,000 in the fourth offering of its Youth United program – up from $7,500 in previous years. Earlier this year, with the generous support of RBC Future Launch, the allotment increased again to $20,000 for approved 2018/2019 projects. New grant applications are currently in the final stages of approval.

A group of community-minded volunteers aged 14-24 were responsible for reviewing and assessing grant applications and recommending funding decisions.

“I chose to take part in the Youth Council for the opportunity to help better my local community and to gain valuable experience working as a part of a community,” said Braden Atkinson, Youth Council 2017. “It was very rewarding to collaborate with other youths and make tough decisions about how to best help our local community limited resources.”

With guidance and support, these inspirational young leaders are creating the communities they want to live in.

Watch the Future Evolve

Approved Youth United projects will be announced in April. Check back then to cheer on the new group of young change makers. In the meantime, visit our Youth United page to learn more about the program.

The Youth United Fund is one way your UWSM donation goes straight back into our community. Our region’s youth are a reason to care and a #ReasonToGive.

Local giving. Local results.