Cultural youth program empowers immigrant families

Immigrant youth in Edmonton can find themselves facing many different kinds of struggles. Some local community volunteers saw this and decided to offer them support through youth programming over the past year. The Cultural Youth Initiative, which was funded by the City of Edmonton's Ounce of Prevention program in 2013/2014, originally sprouted from one-on-one conversations with youth and families in libraries and at transit stops across the city. Out of these conversations, organizers noticed common themes and decided to focus on an initiative that would address healthy eating, healthy choices and mentorship among immigrant youth. "We're focusing on women and families and healthy eating and lifestyles," said Edith, one of the program organizers. "We run programs that cover healthy eating, public speaking, self esteem and time management." The groups met two or three times a month for a year to address these issues, gathering on weekends from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Edith said a major concern they wanted to address was confidence and self esteem in immigrant youth. "If an immigrant youth is on the bus and someone is standing in their way, often they will not ask them to move, they will wait until that person gets off and miss their stop, walking from the further stop. They just don't have confidence," said Edith, adding that this lack of confidence weaves its way into their vision of their futures as well. "We asked them where they wanted to go in their lives and nobody could answer," she said. "When I was growing up I knew where I wanted to go in life. If we don't make sure that youth have these things, we won't have a generation that will be peaceful." The whole program aimed to help make immigrant teens more well-rounded and prepared for the future by strengthening their families as well. "When women are financially okay, they can strengthen the children. Financial strain causes stress on the whole family," said Edith. Mothers were offered support in learning how to stretch the dollars they have while ensuring their families are getting the nutrients they need. The program hoped to empower the entire family, giving them the confidence and skills to be successful in Canadian society. "We want to make sure they know who they are and what they need to be successful," she said. "You think they know all this, but a lot of things came out that they just didn't know. If we empower them, they will build up society. We want to empower people and leave a legacy behind." REACH Edmonton coordinated and supported the groups who accessed Ounce of Prevention funds from the City of Edmonton in 2013, bringing the safety and crime prevention lens to the program.