Youth Expressions! program launches with funding from the Emergency Community Support Fund

Youth Expressions! A new kind of youth program helps vulnerable, diverse youth build their confidence, connections and mental wellbeing with creative expression.

Express yourself! That’s the message DIVERSEcity Community Resources Society is sharing with diverse youth in Surrey, BC, in launching its new program, Youth Expressions!

Newcomer youth are a growing demographic in BC, but they face unique challenges as they settle into Canada, from language barriers, to trauma, to lack of community connections. In this time of COVID-19, these obstacles are amplified, and young newcomers are facing additional stress and isolation, impacting their mental wellbeing.

Thanks to the Emergency Community Support Fund and United Way of the Lower Mainland, DIVERSEcity has received $50,000 to launch an innovative new program. Youth Expressions! aims to empower these diverse teenagers (aged 13 to 24) to engage with community programs, gain confidence, improve their coping strategies and mental health, and make new friends — even if just virtually for now.

While DIVERSEcity has youth programs with similar empowerment goals, Youth Expressions! is a one-of-a-kind program as it’s delivered with a cultural, artistic approach. Using expressive arts therapy, dance and other forms of expression, youth can express their voices, cultures and feelings in creative ways.

“The newcomer youth we work with have told us they have been feeling isolated and lonely, even depressed, as a result of COVID-19. They were missing in-person socialization with their peers,” said Mike Lally, Manager, Youth Programs at DIVERSEcity. “With Youth Expressions!, we want them to feel an increased sense of belonging by bringing them together through online platforms, giving them the time and space to connect with other youth in creative ways. We’ve already had some tell us they are feeling less alone and isolated.”

The Youth Expressions! program will offer a variety of workshops and activities, and has already kicked off with an eight-week online workshop series called CommuniCreate, in partnership with SFU Surrey – TD Community Engagement Centre. Between now and March 2021, more program components will roll out that will focus on expressive art therapy, dance, yoga, healthy communication, physical literacy, social emotional learning, leadership capacity, mindfulness and dialectical behavioral therapy.

Why is cultural expression important? According to an article from the Institute for Arts Integration and Steam, “students who are given the opportunity to create art will create something that in some way reflects their own culture. If students see their culture reflected in the environment, and are given the space to express themselves through their art making, that will help to create that safe environment.”

“This program is all about creating a platform for our youth to express themselves and get connected!” added Lally.

“DIVERSEcity’s Youth Expressions! workshops for newcomer and refugee youth help young people build essential coping strategies to deal with some of the uncertainties brought on by COVID-19. The workshops are an important step towards ensuring youth mental health and well-being during this unprecedented time,” says Kim Winchell, Senior Director, Strategy & Operations, Community Impact and Investment at United Way of the Lower Mainland. “United Way of the Lower Mainland through the Emergency Community Support Fund is proud to support a safe space with culturally responsive practices through this online offering where youth can reconnect with each other to help combat social isolation.”

Youth Expressions! is funded by the Government of Canada through the Emergency Community Support Fund. The fund is administered by United Way and supports food security and youth mental health initiatives during COVID-19.