The Newcomer Youth Advancement Program is currently being offered in 10 Clubs across Canada, including two Edmonton sites. These Clubs are actively engaging in an outreach process to ensure that newcomers have access to Clubs and an opportunity to participate in Club programming. Once youth are in the door, Clubs are offering programming aimed at engaging newcomer youth. Program focus areas include recreation, music and dance, multi-media, and business and entrepreneurial development. Through these various focus areas, youth are encouraged to share newcomer experiences, engage with their community, develop skills and leadership abilities, and make healthy choices. They are also supported with school work and literacy development. All programming is intended to promote outcomes associated with healthy youth development and the inclusion of newcomer youth in Clubs and communities.
The program at the BGCBigs had a strong emphasis on community engagement as a means to promote sense of community. The staff aimed to introduce youth not only to the Club, but to the more broad community as well. For example, the staff indicated they took the youth to spaces in the community that they could participate in and this introduction to community spaces led the youth to feel a sense of belonging. They were shown places where they could play, work, and get involved.
“The program makes the kids part of a community. They don’t know the language here and they always feel like outsiders. But in this program they learn different skills and we make them feel like they are part of a community. They feel like they have a meaningful role to play.” (Club Staff)
Youth feedback confirmed that the program helped them to feel part of the community. One youth explained how feeling like she belonged in the community led her to want to protect and preserve it.
“I now feel like an ambassador of the community. I want to lead by example in the community so that it stays nice and protected.” (Youth Participant)
Youth at the BGC of Edmonton were encouraged to take-on leadership roles in the Clubs. They were often given the opportunity to lead other youth either during program activities or on a volunteer basis. This provided the youth with the opportunity to develop their skills and to learn about their strengths and weaknesses in a safe place. The staff highlighted how the youths’ new found leadership skills have transferred into the school environment as well.
“Now that the youth are confident in their abilities, they are more open to taking leadership roles on in their school.”(Club Staff)
The youth stated that their improved communication and social skills have helped them to feel confident taking leaderships and to try new things.
“I am more confident talking with other kids and adults so I can lead and ya, try new activities.” (Youth Participant)
Also, staff and youth both expressed how the program has helped to add structure and focus to the participants’ lives. For example, staff helped youth develop time-management skills and to outline goals.
“We are learning how to succeed at many things at one time and how to reach our goals one step at a time.” (Youth Participant)
Overall, the findings demonstrate that all Clubs offered a program where the youth felt safe, welcomed, respected, and valued. Club feedback highlights that the program was successful at supporting the healthy development and inclusion of newcomer youth by promoting outcomes in five key areas:
- improved sense of belonging;
- increased cultural awareness and sensitivity;
- improved communication and social skills;
- improved leaderships skills and self-direction;
- improved attitudes toward school;
- increased knowledge about health and nutrition.
The most prevalent outcome promoted in the program was an improved sense of belonging. Clubs indicated that the youth experienced a greater sense of belonging among their peers as well as within the Club, school, or community environment. The findings also emphasize that the program was particularly effective at promoting youths’ communication and social skills. Clubs used a variety of learning techniques to encourage communication and social interaction and it is apparent that the creative approaches used by Clubs were effective at enhancing youths’ language and social skills. Whether through cooking workshops, career training, or musical performances, the youth were encouraged to step outside of their comfort zones and to put their skills into practice.
The findings also highlight that the ability to be flexible in program design and activities was critical. This flexibility allowed Clubs to develop programs that matched the context of their Club and the interests of the youth in their community. While having common goals to work toward helped to ensure the program had focus, the flexibility in how to reach them meant Clubs took ownership over the program and ultimately created programs that were relevant and context specific.
On behalf of the staff and families involved, we thank Boys & Girls Clubs of Canada, for the opportunity to create these outcomes for Edmonton’s newcomers.