Building resilience and self-esteem while learning skills to cope with feelings and worries are the goals of a program coming to area students.
During an information session held earlier this month in Williams Lake, Denisiqi’s Aboriginal Child and Youth Mental Health team leader Neil Burrows said the decision to do more outreach work arose out of reports released by the Representative for Children and Youth.
The latest RCY report — Delegated Aboriginal Agencies: How resourcing affects service delivery — talks about funding inequities with delegated agencies, Burrows said.
“It listed all the previous reports about why kids were falling through the cracks. Sometimes the language was the same, year after year — that services need to go where the kids are.”
Two years ago Denisiqi began delivering the program Fun FRIENDS in band-operated schools in the region.
Now it is expanding to some SD27 schools.
One of the team members, child and youth counsellor Carmen Mutschele ,said while they use the Fun FRIENDS program as the structure, they also do cultural activities and lots of art.
“I always bring my guitar so I can incorporate music,” she said. “There are lots of great pop songs out there that incorporate great messages.”
Community enrichment worker Crystal Wells said she started with the program in January.
“I was telling the students the other day that the first couple of times I went I felt shy and now I am coming in and the students are all high-fiving me,” Wells said.
“One of the things I worked on was a request from the principal and teachers on (adding) a bullying section.”
Wells created an anti-bullying Jeopardy game, which was received enthusiastically by the students.
“It was pretty amazing to see how enthralled they were and eager to help each other get the questions right.”
Carolyn Charleyboy, also a community outreach worker, said she enjoyed working with the program at Lake City Secondary’s Columneetza campus.
“We didn’t use a structured Friends program but we took pieces of it and talked about bullying, relationships, mindfulness and meditation which are all components of it,” Charleyboy said. “We used the circle process and shared some of our cultural programs.”
Very quickly the Grade 9 students owned the space and helped each other feel comfortable, Charleyboy said.
“When there is that safety in relationships it’s great to see how the youth will share so honestly.”
Intake and wellness worker Shannon Stump-William said she works individually helping youth connect with their family trees and reconnect them with their culture and background.
“I work with girls in Grade 9 who will be coming to town next year to make sure their transition will be a lot smoother,” Stump-William said.
Terri Smith, a school-based worker, has lived and worked at Ulkatcho since 1996 where she has seen how using gentleness and keeping traditions make an “enormous” difference.
Smith also works with Victim Services and said if some of her clients had accessed programs like Fun FRIENDS when they were children they would have learned how to recognize emotions and change them.
“I have always believed when children have skills they teach their parents and this program is designed to work with parents as well,” Smith said.
Burrows said the team has worked hard not to go down roads that are not theirs to go down.
Team members are not providing counselling or being teacher’s aids — they are only doing group outreach, he added.
Funding from the Ministry of Children and Family Development is helping pay for travel costs and funding from the Cariboo Action Team for supplies and materials, while partnerships are developing with Changing Directions, Success by 6 and the Boys and Girls Club of Williams Lake and District.