A Calgary-based non-profit organization is teaming up with the Irricana & Rural Municipal Library to host kid- and teen-centred programming to address youth mental health this month and next.
Closer to Home offers more than 45 programs addressing youth mental health, parenting skills, family homelessness, foster care, group care, and resources for Indigenous and newcomer families to more than 65,000 Albertans.
The organization’s Healing HeARTS program is one of many offered to kids and teens in inner city and rural communities, aimed at helping families build the skills and connections they need to break free from cycles of poverty, isolation, and trauma.
“When we’re able to provide programs like Healing HeARTS, we’re able to promote positive mental and social well-being in a fun way,” said Fay Omarshide, coordinator for the North Central Family Resource Network.
She added specific to rural communities, kids and teens are less likely to seek mental health support programs because of the social stigma associated with them.
“These programs will build their mental health, which also improves our environments in daily living and reduces factors like stress and anxiety and subsequent substance abuse,” Omarshide said, adding substance abuse is often more prevalent in rural communities than urban ones.
“It gives kids something to do in those critical hours where they’re more than likely to go out and seek negative behaviours rather than being somewhere safe, like a program like ours.”
According to Omarshide, the program was actualized when Closer to Home evaluated a low-income area in southwest Calgary and found some concerning trends among the youth population.
“Things that kept on coming up with kids, was not knowing how to cope with certain issues, [and low] self-esteem, so we decided to develop that program for those kids,” Omarshide said.
The program coordinator added once Closer to Home facilitated the Healing HeARTS program in those southeast Calgary communities, the non-profit organization recognized the value in it and later expanded into both Airdrie and Irricana.
Omarshide said the Irricana program runs each Thursday after school at the Irricana & Rural Municipal Library from approximately 3:45 to 4:45 p.m., during “critical hours,” or the time when kids are most vulnerable to peer pressure.
“A study has been done and they found that during the period right after school until 6 p.m., kids are more likely to indulge in criminal activity or drugs if they aren’t in programming or have somewhere to go,” she explained.
She added a lot of government funding has been poured into early intervention to prevent kids from going down a detrimental path during those critical hours.
“Most of our programming that we facilitate is during that time, so that kids have better success in their future and their environments and lives,” Omarshide said.
She added the program is open to attendees who are 10 to 17 years old.
“We know most kids around that age group don’t generally join programs, but we think it’s valuable for kids all the way up to that age [17 years old],” she said. “[At] ten years old, they start to understand those concepts more, so that’s why we targeted it to that age group.”
The program takes on a drop-in-style format, because Closer to Home recognizes that kids might not be able to commit to the full session each week, according to Omarshide. As a result, the program’s facilitators focus on different topics and skills each session to capture a new audience.
Omarshide said the skills and topics are taught using the program’s teaching family model that focuses on health development and social emotional learning. She added the skills the children learn can be transferred outside of the program in their daily lives.
"Once a week, we’ll focus on a certain kind of topic and then after we incorporate either art or music to go along with it,” she said.
Omarshide added one example of a topic discussed during a session includes focusing on control and coping strategies when kids are feeling upset or frustrated.
“We leave it open to the kids so they can say, ‘When I'm frustrated, [these are] the feelings that I’m feeling, and this is how I like to cope,’” she said.
She added one technique to teach youth healthy coping strategies is to make “intention sticks” or “funky sticks” that kids paint and decorate with glitter and ribbon to remind them of their coping strategy.
“If the kids are upset, they can think back to their coping strategy and grab the intention stick and remember that’s their coping strategy,” she said.
According to the program coordinator, kids are encouraged to walk in and sign up for the day’s session when they arrive, adding they do not need to register in advance.
“Our facilitator will be there, ready to greet them,” Omarshide said, emphasizing that anybody within the specific age group is welcome to attend.
The program will continue until the second week of December, however, Closer to Home is planning to facilitate further programming in Irricana, Beiseker, Crossfield, and Airdrie on an ongoing basis.
“We always look to what the need is in the community, and we build our programs based on what the children and the youth want to see in those communities,” Omarshide said. “So we always offer community education sessions or drop-in programs.
“Next year, in January, we’ll have more programs that will be offered in those communities as well.”
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