Youth leadership program promotes volunteering

A leadership program focused on immigrant youth is having an impact on teens and the immigrant community as a whole. In 2013, the Nyirol Foundation for Development used funding from the City of Edmonton's Ounce of Prevention program to reach out to immigrant youth and their families. Founder John Bol saw the need in the community after arriving in Edmonton from Sudan in 2004. During his time in a Sudanese refugee camp, he organized programs like choir and Sunday School for the children. In this way, youth at the formative ages of 8 to 11 were involved in the community, which had a lasting effect on their lives. "Because they were in the community, they volunteered. And when those kids grew up they were leaders," said Bol. In Edmonton, Bol saw many immigrant youth and families in his community struggling with isolation as they faced the challenges of adjusting to a new country and culture. Bol says it is imperative that youth are connected to their communities during the tender years of junior high. Though many programs focus on older youth or younger children, he insisted that his program must reach out to youth ages 10 to 13 as well. While learning about leadership and how to volunteer, many of these youth seize the opportunity to seek guidance from leaders in their community. "These kids are asking, 'how do I become a social worker or a police officer?' " said Bol. In addition to giving advice on the education required to enter these fields, Bol always encourages youth to volunteer in the community. "When you volunteer, you gain experience, you make friends and networks," he said. "When you volunteer you have more windows open to you. These youth just need direction. Some one who can encourage them." The group met three times a month in 2013 to discuss topics like communicating at home or school and what it means to be a good citizen. Bol is confident that the program has not only connected youth to their communities, but also opened their eyes to the possibilities for their futures. "You can be a police officer, a politician, a doctor, a nurse," he said. "In this country it's up to you to find a way." But as always, Bol stresses that connecting to the community is integral to the success of individuals and groups alike. "You cannot do anything without good people," he said. "This program succeeded because we found people who know how to collaborate and work together." REACH Edmonton coordinates and supports the groups who access Ounce of Prevention funds from the City of Edmonton, bringing the safety and crime prevention lens to the program.