Funding offers a boost to new youth program for mental wellness
Robson Valley Community Service (RVCS) is connecting mental well-being to the great outdoors in a new program that encourages youth to take a breath of fresh air alongside their peers.
When Valemount youth (ages 11–18) were experiencing increased levels of social anxiety and declines in overall well-being, due in part to the reduction of extracurricular activities starting in 2020, RVCS wanted to offer a solution. With a mission to strengthen their community by providing free and affordable programs and outreach services, they created the Valemount Youth Wilderness Initiative, an accessible youth program that focuses on building resiliency and positive self-image.
“The initiative aims to provide equitable opportunities for youth to engage in outdoor recreation and improve their well-being through participation in physical activities, meaningful social interaction and connection to the land,” says RVCS representative Jana MacMaster. “This pilot program will mark the start of long-term expansion to address the need for early intervention and prevention programs to improve youth mental health in Valemount.”
In early 2022, occupational therapy graduate students from UBC spent six weeks in Valemount to help shape the fundamentals of the initiative. To ensure the program would be low-cost and/or free for the community, the non-profit sought support from Columbia Basin Trust. This initiative will help build meaningful connections and create more livable communities for children, youth and families in Valemount.
Group sessions will consist of a variety of activities, including hiking, biking, fishing, fire and shelter building, campfire cooking and rock climbing. Youth will also participate in environmental rehabilitation and Indigenous education conducted by the Simpcw Resources Group and work with local recreation groups to maintain adventure trails and develop employable skills, as well as a sense of responsibility for the land.
“This program will foster community collaboration with local Indigenous groups, as we learn from them in areas of land stewardship, and how we can teach these principles through a culturally safe lens,” explains MacMaster. “In addition to building skills, these activities are intended to bolster local youth’s connection and access to recreation. We’re hoping they will share new skills and principles learned within their community, and as a result, increase their connection to the land, and to everyone who shares it.”
RVCS considers the initiative more vital than ever for rural residents who face accessibility barriers to traditional mental health support. The program is set to launch in April 2023 and will be delivered in a group setting while individual needs will be assessed by occupational therapists, who will work with each participant to develop personal goals.
“RVCS is grateful for the opportunity to deliver this project in Valemount,” adds MacMaster. “We’re very excited to work with community members who are committed to teaching youth new skills.”