Youth builds the strength & voice to lead: Hunter's Story
Hunter is an 18-year-old youth who first joined his community’s PLAY program in northern Alberta in September 2019. “When I first started attending, I was very shy, I was very quiet, and when I walked into a group of people, I was very timid, and I kind of stuck with the people I already knew,” Hunter recounts. Through the skill-building activities facilitated by his Community Mentor, Skye Durocher, however, he has grown by leaps and bounds. “I’ve noticed a huge change in Hunter over the last 6 months,” says Skye.
Skye’s program is open to ages 9 and up, and many of her activities are focused on communication and strengthening youth voice. “Being able to communicate not only how they feel but things that they want,” she explains. “I feel that a lot of the time, especially youth in Indigenous communities don’t get a voice. And I want them to be able to feel like they can harness their own voice and their own opinions, and be validated in their own thoughts,” she says. “[This is] is important, especially as young adults.”
Hunter explains that the team building activities with all ages of youth at the program have helped him develop confidence, communication and teamwork skills. “Now, I feel like I’m more confident and I can actually approach people […] and have proper conversations without being anxious,” he reflects.
Now, I feel like I’m more confident and I can actually approach people […] and have proper conversations without being anxious.
Since joining the program, Hunter has even built the courage and skills to run for vice president of the Youth Council, an elected group of young people that advocates for youth and organizes activities in the community. At first, Hunter had his doubts about applying for the role, but he decided to give it a shot, and was elected by his peers! Since joining, he has helped the youth council secure a $5,000 grant, which they used to create 125 care packages for youth during the pandemic. “He’s definitely accepted every challenge that I’ve given him,” Skye shares. “I think that the program has helped in that aspect of building confidence, […] to make sure that he can apply [the skills] to his actual life.”
For example, Hunter has seen changes in his behaviour in school and at home because of his growth through program. “In school, before I started attending program, I was very quiet and shy and kept to myself,” he shares. “But since I started attending, after a couple months, I started talking more, being more open. [...] I’ve started joining more clubs – now I’m a part of Environmental Club at my high school – and I feel like if I didn’t do programming, I wouldn’t have done it because I would have been too shy to introduce myself to a new group of people," he continues. “Even at home, I’m more talkative now, I love giving my opinions.”
Skye keeps pushing for youth voice and leadership opportunities: “I like to think of myself as a planner. I just plan out everything for them and then they just go with it. It’s been really good to see the different voices and see the youth stand up for themselves.”
Right To Plays PLAY program partners with Indigenous communities and urban organizations to train locally-hired Community Mentors to deliver weekly play-based programs that promote Healthy Relationships, Health and Wellness, Education and Employability. Since 2010, the PLAY program has expanded from working with two partners to more than 75 across Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta, and British Columbia, currently over 75 PLAY community partners are continuing to offer a modified PLAY programming while reaching over 7000 children and youth last year.