‘Talking it out’ provides support system for LGBTQ youth
Strengthening mental health services -
After introductions and icebreakers, the youth scribble their questions and concerns onto Post-It notes and drop them into a “talk it out” bucket.
Led by adult facilitators, topics the youth bring for discussion may range from ‘how do I know if I am gay’ to ‘how do you make new friends’. There are no parameters.
“Our goals are to help decrease isolation and to bolster resiliency in young people,” said program coordinator Angele DesRoches. “Our motto is no assumptions, no boxes. We want to create a space where youth can comfortably be who they are.”
Children need more support because they are coming out earlier, and there are now more possibilities for identity, DesRoches explained.
“You can’t be what you can’t see,” she said, noting that visibility makes a difference
PEERS Alliance (formerly AIDS PEI) is one of six Island communities that recently received a Wellness Grant. The funding provided enables PEERS Alliance to train more adults to facilitate meetings, and lead to the expansion of the LGBTQ+ Youth Group into other regions of the province.
“We had 20 youth with the program over six sessions and we had folks travelling to Charlottetown from all over the Island - Tignish, Kensington, Morell - to participate. During our early evaluation activities, youth were really clear in their feedback -- they wanted more.”
“The program very much aligns with what we are funded to do in terms of promoting wellness and strengthening capacity among our priority populations,” said PEERS Alliance executive director Cybelle Rieber. ” We’re a small not-for-profit organization with a limited budget, and we couldn’t expand without additional support.”
Right now they meet the second and last Tuesday of every month from 6-8 in the Murphy’s Community Centre. The youth – ages 11 to 18 – discuss topics of interest or concern to them, then do a group activity such as a craft, and have a healthy snack. About a dozen youth attend each meeting, although more than 30 have engaged at one point or another. .
DesRoches calls the meetings the highlight of her month. She says she’s been very happy to see the youth make new friends and openly share their opinions on things like coming out, gender identity, and school cultures that either support them or make their journey more difficult.
“They’re so open with their thoughts and with each other,” she explained, noting the difference in just a decade since she was growing up and dealing with assumptions surrounding gender and sexuality.
“To hear a 12-year-old explain how he was helping a friend who was fearing his family’s disapproval; to hear him unpack that, it’s quite incredible,” DesRoches said.
Volunteers help deliver the program with two adult volunteers attending each session. Charlottetown currently has four trained volunteers and PEERS Alliance are recruiting volunteers for a future meeting in Summerside.
DesRoches said the pilot program demonstrated the value of the program.
“It is wonderful that the province recognizes that value and is willing to help us expand our reach through the Wellness Grant funding.”
For more information, call 1-902-566-2437 or visit PEERS Alliance.
What is the Wellness Grant Program?