Youth Connexion

by Samantha Brazeau-Wilson

Do your teens need to disconnect from their tech toys and reconnect to the outside world? If you live in the west end, Youth Connexion might be the perfect outlet. It’s a City of Ottawa program that encourages young people aged 12 to 18 to get more involved in the community and to fulfill their potential.

At two sites — in West Carleton at the Fitzroy Harbour Community Centre and in Stittsville at the Pretty Street Community Centre — Youth Connexion offers activities and events hosted and planned by youth from the area. That’s right. The kids get to organize occasions and take ownership for what happens.

The Fitzroy Harbour Community Centre is a space downstairs that the kids have decorated themselves, says Mary Lou Davidson, Stittsville program coordinator. “They have the Internet there, they watch movies, do crafts.” Attendance varies depending on the different events, with larger happenings drawing between 60 and 200 youth.

The City of Ottawa and Youth Connexion also offer a program called Recreation Empowering Active Community Helpers (REACH). It’s a community-based initiative that helps high school students earn the 40 volunteer hours they need to graduate. The goal of the program is to provide a safe and educational environment for kids to complete their hours while becoming more engaged in their communities. And participants can actually earn their hours by planning and volunteering for the local events. Through REACH, students are able to develop networks, partnerships and friendships while gaining respect from adults, seniors and local businesses.

Other Youth Connexion offerings include babysitting and home-alone courses, as well as barbeques, spa nights and seasonal activities. “Once the kids get to the age of 12 or so they don’t want to go to regular camp anymore, so we have a camp … called Youth Extreme Week,” Mary Lou explains. Kids who sign up get to do fun stuff, such as paintballing or flying down the water rides at Calypso. The destinations are a little more adventurous than those planned for younger day-campers, she notes.

But there’s more than fun and games going on. West Carleton program coordinator Kyle Dawson says Youth Connexion gives youth a feeling of purpose as they plan different events for others to attend. The programs also allow them to develop employment skills. “Most youth don’t feel that they are a part of their community or have any say in what is happening,” he points out, adding Youth Connexion helps them have a voice and speak up about issues. The experience can really make a difference.

And if your teens are easily bored, there’s no need to worry. Programming and events change so there’s something new all the time for them to be a part of, Kyle mentions.

For more information and course locations, see youthconnexion.ca. You can also visit the Youth Connexion page on Facebook, follow @Youth_Connexion on Twitter and email youthconnecxion@ottawa.ca.

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