Youth group takes on community projects

·3 min read

The adolescent years can be challenging. But a program for 11- to 14-year-olds aims to create a positive environment for growth and independence.

“The program recognizes that age group is such a special and unique period in one’s life,” says Saba Changizi, the program coordinator for Richmond Youth. “Society often sees this age group as tumultuous and kind of rebellious, but the program’s vision is to create a positive environment for them to help channel their talents and energies in a very meaningful and purposeful way.”

The local chapter, which Changizi describes as a “community grassroots initiative,” is part of an internationally recognized curriculum that helps youth develop language abilities, excel in school and become active agents of change.

“Sometimes society breeds a feeling that there’s a lot of chaos in the world, but it’s up to everyone else to change it,” says Changizi. “With the junior youth, we’re having conversations where they see themselves as the protagonists.”

Participants are divided into small groups of about 10 people. Those groups meet once a week, sometimes coming together for larger events. Right now, Changizi says there are eight groups.

Each small group is responsible for taking on a project to improve their community. For example, one group designed an obstacle course at Garden City Park where people would pair off with someone they’d never met; one partner was blindfolded and the other led them through the course.

“At first there’s suspicion, they didn’t know each other, there’s hesitation. But by the time they complete it, there’s this camaraderie or friendship that is able to be nurtured,” says Changizi.

Another group focused on mental health and made a booklet that was handed out to community members.

Recently, some members of the organization made a proposal to city council, wanting to plant 215 trees to commemorate the graves found at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. Changizi says this is one of the larger-scale projects Richmond Youth has taken on.

Last summer, during a camp themed around service, three groups carried out different service projects. One group created a cooling station to help during the heat wave, one sent cards to a seniors’ home, and a third group made care packages for people experiencing homelessness.

When group members turn 15 they can continue to be involved as mentors, who are referred to as animators—“because their purpose is to enliven the group and bring it to life.”

Current youth participants appreciate the group’s welcoming atmosphere and the texts it bases its program around. They are also happy to have a chance to give back.

"What I really like about this program is that it provides youth with lots of positivity and resources to help them become the best person they can be,” says youth participant Jessica. “This program is also the best place to give back to our community; we do service projects that make the community a better place.”

"I decided to join the program to gain experience doing fundraising and charity work. I really enjoyed learning to interact with people during our service project. I would really like to do more, although I now have a little more exposure with projects like these,” says youth participant Sophia.

Changizi joined the program while living in China and has been part of the Richmond branch since 2017—the last two years as one of its coordinators.

“I love working with the junior youth and seeing them grow and develop,” she says. “A lot of them come in super shy, struggling to articulate their ideas. After a year or two in the program, seeing that transformation and the understanding of what society or community life looks like and how they can contribute to that is always super inspiring and really rewarding. I feel like I’ve benefited so much from being a part of this process.”

Hannah Scott, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Richmond Sentinel

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