United Way’s youth leadership co-ordinator plays key role

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.

Big Sisters and Big Brothers supported by United Way

In my quest to secure personal testimonials of lives changed by the member agencies of United Way, I’d like to thank Nan Stuckey and Margaret Butler for sharing this heart-warming story of love and compassion. Here are some excerpts from Margaret’s story …

“I believe who we are as a person can be defined by a single experience or exchange in our lives. For me, these defining moments in time came with my experience as a “Little” in my Big Sister Match. The youth of today need more direction and more attention as they learn the value of their own worth. There is no better way for this to happen than being involved in the mentoring experience of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Chatham-Kent.

The most powerful impact on my life was my Big Sister. Without my Big Sister as a mentor I don’t know that I would have become the woman I am today. Most children grow up in homes that not only provide for their basic needs but for their inner individual needs, too. In my home I was the eldest child of a woman that suffered from clinical depression. Being a victim of sexual assault at a young age and growing up with a parent who struggled to provide even the basic needs because of her mental illness, I was lost, confused, and often times very alone. In school I struggled and had no friends. At home I was responsible for much of the household duties including caring for a younger sibling and a parent who had her own struggles.

After being referred to the agency, I was matched with a very pleasant, yet busy woman. We were matched for about a year and a half when she ended the match because of scheduling difficulties with her employer. I was crushed and took it very personally. I thought maybe I was just unlovable. The agency did not give up on me and convinced me to give it another go. After a very short time I was matched with the most incredible woman I have ever met. I am so glad I gave in and agreed to try again.

 

Mavis took a nervous, shy and very untrusting girl and stuck by me as a mentor. The original obligation of a “Big” was clearly defined, but what to do with a troubled “Little” like me wasn’t. Mavis stuck it through. She took me on day trips of shopping and nature related activities. She took me out to eat, on her boat, to where she worked, introduced me to her family and taught me to care for animals properly. The list goes on and on. It really was about what she taught me while she shared her time with me.

Mavis taught me things like patience and tolerance and to look for, and consider, all of people’s possible motivations for their actions. She did this so that I could learn to trust again. She even helped me understand various religions and science theories so I could decide what I believed as a person. She taught me I had worth as a person, that I could accomplish things, and shape my own destiny. She helped me with my homework … and with my broken heart.

When I made mistakes she helped me learn from them rather than repeat them. She was full of second and third chances and never judged me. But, most importantly, she taught me that, not only was I lovable, I was loved, accepted and wanted as a person. She gave me something to look forward to each week and was never afraid to help me through a struggle. As I grew as an individual, she waited patiently as I worked through my shyness or embarrassment or awkwardness.

Mavis exposed me to things outside of my darkened world and offered me a positive outlet. I would not have finished school, have gotten most of the jobs, or have become the great mother I am today without her influence and constant guidance during our match. Mavis encourages me, prays with and for me and is still today, my most trusted confidante and someone I admire. Mavis is my personal hero and the reason I have so much faith in mentoring programs. There is no such thing as a bad kid or a lost cause – only kids who really need someone to hold their hand, love them, and most importantly, teach them how to love themselves.

You don’t have to give hours, you don’t have to be a credited psychologist – nor are most “Littles” as difficult as I was. But the kids that are like I was cannot be turned into productive, upstanding citizens without this world’s Mavis’s. I only wish there were more of them to go around.

I believe in mentoring. I believe we could do today’s youth more justice. My name is Margaret, and the most influential and beneficial experience in my life was the time I shared with my mentor and Big Sister, Mavis.”

Chatham-Kent Big Brothers Big Sisters currently receives an allocation of $99,217 from United Way to offer recruitment and support for adult volunteers who mentor local boys and girls and develop healthy relationships through role modeling. They supported 113 “matches” throughout Chatham-Kent in 2011.

Change starts here! Thanks to those who have made a contribution to this year’s United Way Campaign to ensure that these valuable programs continue!

Member agencies benefit from your donations

As we begin the new year, I want to take some time to celebrate the year-round contributions of United Way’s member agencies. And I also want to say “thanks” to those who dedicate their time and talent to these vitally important social service agencies. This week I will focus on two of our funded agencies – Chatham-Kent Block Parent Program Inc. and Chatham-Kent Family Y.M.C.A.

Chatham-Kent Block Parent Program Inc. is one of the members of the United Way family of agencies whose programs are supported through donations to the annual campaign. This agency helps build a safer community by providing immediate assistance to individuals in distress, through a safety network of 166 residential/rural homes and 11 businesses throughout Chatham-Kent which have been screened by local police services. Contributions are used to offer ongoing personal safety awareness and injury prevention education to our communities’ most vulnerable citizens – our children and seniors. And it’s much more than just a sign in the window!

Kim Lang has been an active Block Parent in Wallaceburg since April of 2004. Kim owns a home which is assisted by Community Living of Wallaceburg. There are several caregivers who assist Kim with the various components of daily living. Kim is a vibrant, energetic and community-oriented woman who loves volunteering for Block Parents – not only as a “safe stranger” in her community – but also at many parades over the years. Kim also attended the organization’s 2012 Annual General Meeting and helped meet and greet delegates at the 2011 Provincial Block Parent Conference which was held in Wallaceburg. Kim and the Block Parent Program have a co-operative, mutually beneficial relationship that is highly valued by each of them.

Chatham-Kent Block Parent Program Inc. relies very heavily on United Way support as alternative sources of funding are quite limited. This agency is currently receiving an annual allocation of $31,453 from United Way. The organization served 2,117 individuals throughout Chatham-Kent during 2011.

The Chatham-Kent Family YMCA was one of six charter members when United Way was established in 1948. When you give to United Way, you are supporting direct and immediate support to individuals and families in Chatham-Kent who otherwise would be unable to afford to participate. Everyone should have the opportunity to join in on YMCA programs and services regardless of their ability to pay. Jenny (not her real name) is a single mom with two small children. She states, “It is a struggle financially to get my kids enrolled in activities. The YMCA has provided us with a subsidy so that my children can participate in programs/swimming lessons and teach them independence.” In addition to that, Jenny admits, “I need some ‘me’ time and if it wasn’t for the Y, I simply wouldn’t have that.”

The Chatham-Kent Family YMCA currently receives $21,612 from United Way to assist with subsidized memberships.