For 20 years, Supporting Our Youth (SOY) has responded to the health and wellness needs of local LGBT2SQ youth and young adults. Based on a full youth-led program evaluation completed in 2017, SOY is evolving into a collection of health and wellbeing focused programs and services.
In 2018, SOY began to implement service model changes based on recommendations of the program-wide evaluation, a process in which LGBT2SQ youth played an active role, including engagement of two LGBT2SQ youth Research Assistants, a youth advisory committee, and feedback from a comprehensive survey and focus groups.
Taking into account the changing landscape, the evaluation identified opportunities to provide enhanced programming for SOY’s diverse youth and young adults. As a result, our services and programming are shifting to continue to best serve our LGBT2SQ youth community.
Today SOY, as a program of Sherbourne Health, is a set of health promotion services and programming centred on supporting the health and wellbeing goals established by LGBT2SQ youth and young adults, many of whom are homeless, racialized and newcomers to Canada.
To carry this out successfully, SOY is focusing on supporting participants with goal-planning, skills-building and connections to helpful resources through a new Goal Planning Service (GPS) supported by Youth Resource Workers (YRWs), Evening Health and Wellbeing Groups, Mentorship and Peer Leadership Programs, and an Internal Housing Program.
We launched the GPS this past spring, led by five YRWs who work with youth to identify and achieve self-defined personal goals using GPS. This initiative was inspired by results from the evaluation, which showed that youth and young adults wanted more one-on-one supports to help them deal with current circumstances and plan their futures.
The YRWs, who share lived experiences with the youth, currently support over 80 participants with goal-planning, and offer a variety of additional supports like accompanying youth to appointments and family meetings, coordinating programming in SOY’s health and wellbeing groups, and connecting youth to resources within Sherbourne Health and the broader communities.
The evaluation reinforced SOY’s unique relationships that come from being a part of Sherbourne Health. Recognizing this opportunity, SOY is focused on providing connections to critical services at Sherbourne like mental health and primary care, peers, mentors, housing, dieticians, and employment, transitioning and immigration supports.
SOY is also focused on building its Evening Health and Wellbeing Groups, where identity-based groups will continue to run and offer one-to-one support, a nourishing meal, and a safe space for LGBT2SQ youth and young adults to connect to community through friends with shared identities. Starting in mid-January, we will be adjusting the programming schedule to enhance evening groups with more one-to-one and healthcare support. As part of this evolution, SOY’s Monday Night Drop-In is expanding its services into a hub model and moving to Tuesday evenings, which will be called Intersections: The Tuesday Night Health and Wellbeing Hub (Intersections).
Intersections is reflective of the range of identities that we serve, including homeless, black, racialized and newcomer LGBT2SQ youth. All are welcome on Tuesdays for a meal, tokens, programming and services. This hub offers youth a central place to connect with diverse services tailored to individual needs, ranging from a meal or a housing workshop, to an opportunity to engage in an arts-based activity. Tuesday workshops focus on relevant and valuable topics that develop knowledge, skills and resources. Designed as an open, creative space, the hub also increases access to more Sherbourne staff, including YRWs, an intake worker and a mental health counsellor, to support health and wellbeing needs and goals.
Over the years, our flagship Mentorship Program has been an essential support service for LGBT2SQ youth, which includes group and personal (one-on-one) mentorship. To adapt to the evolving needs of young people and increasing numbers of racialized and newcomer youth to SOY, we are enhancing the mentor screening process and training program, and developing a specific program component geared towards Black Queer Youth, called the Black Queer Youth Mentorship Project. This project aims to support and improve the emotional wellbeing of Black, African, Caribbean, or multiracial LGBTQ youth aged 14 to 25 who live in Toronto, with a specific focus on the downtown Toronto, Jane-Finch/Black Creek and Malvern/Scarborough communities.
Youth in the program evaluation also told us how they want leadership opportunities to develop employable skills, grow confidence and self-esteem, and foster opportunities for community capacity building. We further heard about the need for peer-based supports delivered by LGBT2SQ youth with similar experiences and identities. Driven by these needs, we are enhancing the Mentorship Program with the establishment of an in-depth Peer Leadership Program. This companion program provides advanced leadership training in peer education to equip youth leaders with skills to support and mentor their peers, and will be underway in 2019.
LGBT2SQ youth homelessness in Toronto has been a core concern since SOY’s inception in 1998. SOY’s Internal Housing Program has always been pivotal to addressing some of these complex, vital needs. To ensure its ongoing success, one of our new YRWs is dedicated to the Internal Housing Program, and provides active support to young people applying for and living in our housing units. This includes offering immediate support to housing applicants by assessing their needs expressed within the application, and offering them appointments for future planning using our new GPS model. The YRW also brings related issues to the coordination and delivery of programming in our new Intersections health and wellbeing group.
This is an exciting time for SOY! While building on our legacy and the work of past staff, we continue to evolve responsively to support LGBT2SQ youth and young adults through their journeys towards restoring, maintaining and improving overall health and wellbeing. We look forward to continuing to develop and bring forward these enhancements in the New Year.