Youth Mentors on ‘Why are Programs like CRUW Important?’

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Youth Mentors

Of the 23 graduates from the 2012 CRUW cohort, eight applied to rejoin the program as Youth Mentors the following year. Four positions were available, and the youth hired have offered to share the stories of their journey from participants into mentorship roles. To maintain both anonymity and confidentiality,their stories have woven into a single narrative sharing their growth and experiences as part of CRUW. Like many youth living in the Metro Vancouver area who do not find many opportunities to engage with nature, CRUW participants generally begin the program with little-to-no gardening experience. In this sense, CRUW has provided youth with a variety of new skills through working in the gardens and out on the land. These impacts have shown to be far-reaching through the various ways in which the youth grow, learn, and transform over their time together in the program.

Youth Mentors on ‘Why are Programs like CRUW Important?’

Youth Mentors spoke about the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual support they have and continue to receive from Elders at CRUW. This form of mentorship has been especially significant for them, as they do not have regular opportunities to spend time with Elders outside of the program. This further demonstrates evidence that knowledge of ancestry coupled with active participation in cultural practices before and during adolescence can make a significant impact in terms of positive wellness and mental health for Aboriginal youth (Urban Aboriginal Peoples Study 2010).

One of the most important aspects of CRUW for these youth was the cultural diversity of the program. CRUW was described as an amazing program for all of the youth, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, creating a space for cultural exchange and honouring diversity. It has been an important sharing experience for the CRUW participants to learn about different ways of life through cultural sharing, and to have the opportunity to break down the some of the walls of discrimination.

Over the course of the CRUW program year, the youth experienced a high level of personal growth, most notably in terms of building self-confidence, empathy and leadership skills, which contributed to the development of skills, tools and new capacities for emotional and cultural competence. At the same time, the youth also made many new friendships, centered around healthy lifestyles and shared interests.

Engagement between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal youth promotes cultural competency as a foundation for holistic and sustainable urban wellness, positive mental health, and prevention and reduction of substance abuse. We take a direct approach of intervening where people live, work, learn, and grow and strive to promote ecological/environmental responsibility, while empowering youth to develop lifelong connections for service, growth and collaboration within their community. The youth mentors saw considerable changes in their lifestyles, directly impacting their physical, mental emotional, and spiritual wellness. They noted that they “eat less junk food now,” as they are able to bring home vegetables that they harvest during the CRUW sessions. In this sense, they are given opportunities and encouraged to try new foods that they would have otherwise avoided, such as squash, beets and kale.