As a follow-up to last week’s column featuring “Mavis and Margaret”, I’d like to focus on the importance of spending quality time with our young people and ensuring that they are meaningfully engaged in community life.

In the summer of 2011, United Way – together with Adult Language and Learning, Community Futures Development Corporation and the Rotary Club of Chatham – was successful in its bid to receive federal government funding through the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration to hire a Youth Leadership Co-ordinator. This role was designed to strengthen the capacity of the voluntary sector through the engagement of youth aged 18 to 35. As the composition of local boards, committees and service clubs ages, it is important to ensure that younger members of society are recruited and properly trained to assume the roles previously held by those who have given their time and talent over several decades and are ready to move on to other pleasures of life.

Caress Lee Carpenter was our first Youth Leadership Co-ordinator. When Caress accepted a full-time position with United Way, Gabriela Deryck was appointed to replace Caress. She has now been in the position for a little less than two months.

Gabi is not a newcomer to United Way. As a student at the University of Western Ontario in the Media, Information and Technoculture Program, she served a six-month academic internship with United Way of Chatham-Kent in early 2012. During this time, she assisted the staff team with plans for the community’s first “Welcome Home Chatham-Kent” Event – a chance to showcase the numerous assets that Chatham-Kent has to offer to you and young professionals. “As a young person looking for employment and community involvement, I was thrilled to help in an event that highlighted the local volunteer and business opportunities,” says Gabi. The event was also an opportunity to celebrate the outstanding contributions of some of our young professionals who have decided to return to Chatham-Kent to raise their families or begin their careers – and some who have decided to stay and make Chatham-Kent their permanent home.

 

A newcomer to Canada in 2004, Gabi was born in Brazil and is fluent in both English and Portuguese. As a graduate of the Young Leaders of Tomorrow Program offered by the United Way of London & Middlesex, Gabi learned, first-hand, about the importance of providing youth with guidance to become effective leaders. “I am passionate about helping others and the mentorship and training I received have been instrumental in helping me put passion into action.”

Her social awareness and interest in social justice led her to pursue a degree in the Media and the Public Interest (MPI) Program at UWO where she was introduced to new ways of understanding and representing social movements, enhanced her research and writing skills and where she developed a keen interest – and expertise – in social media.

“I think the community engagement opportunities I encountered along the way truly helped me get where I wanted to be. I am excited to pass this knowledge to others. I want to inspire and engage youth in the same way someone inspired me,” says Gabi. As Gabi fulfills her two-year contract with United Way, she will be working with the local Youth Engagement Partnership (YEP) Group. The YEP Group is a partnership between local citizens and organizations committed to youth engagement. Together, they inspire, encourage, and support young people to engage in Chatham-Kent community life. The objectives of the group include, but are not limited to, providing opportunities for skill building and leadership development, providing mentorship opportunities for young adults, building community capacity by strengthening the voluntary sector through youth engagement, gathering information, resources and experiences to create a framework for continued engagement, co-ordinating and supporting the implementation of local youth engagement initiatives, providing opportunities for youth to voice their issues and concerns to become the agents of change in their community and developing recommendations for revisions to existing policies and the creation of new policies that address the needs of local youth.

For those interested in supporting our local youth in community engagement initiatives, please contact Gabi Deryck at gabriela@uwock.ca or call the United Way Office at 519-354-0430.