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Youth finding ways to bring help to people without homes

'I really appreciate people who go through different things and while I haven’t gone through these things myself, I know people who have,' says youth volunteer
YMCA youth outreach worker Shane Morrison, left, volunteers Logan Giesbrecht, 17, and Ben LeClaire, 22, with Elizabeth Fry Society Simcoe Muskoka director of community programs Kaitlin Odom and operations director Tracy Wood.

Logan Giesbrecht may only be 17, but he’s already decided he wants to help people and give back.

The Barrie high school student is participating the YMCA Community Action Network which links youths aged 15 to 30 to the community through their passions by putting a service project together around a specific need.

Over the course of several months, they target a project idea, plan it, link up with community expertise, then get it out into the community and following it all up to make sure what they’re trying to do is sustained.

The youth volunteer their time and pick up skills and connections along the way, gain volunteer hours and are able to enhance their resume and get references.

“I have a band (Three Times Wild ) and our overall message is to help people,” says Giesbrecht. “It’s the same message we have here. We just want to help people who are in positions that maybe aren’t the best, be it with the band, mentally, or physically, with this.”

A major aspect of Giesbrecht’s project culminated recently on the steps of the Elizabeth Fry Society Simcoe Muskoka house in downtown Barrie when the group dropped off 50 care packages containing daily essentials like socks, deodorant and reusable water bottles for people experiencing homelessness.

It’s the second project another group member, Ben LeClaire, has been part of. LeClaire has a perspective similar to that of Giesbrecht.  

“I really appreciate people who go through different things and while I haven’t gone through these things myself, I know people who have,” says the 22-year-old from Huntsville. “I try to be as empathetic as I can and help out as much as I can.”

The program, which runs right across the country, was launched in the Simcoe-Muskoka area four years ago. It's funded by the Canada Service Corps.

Giesbrecht and LeClaire were joined in this project by Anna Ali, Lilly Ali and Sydney Freeman.

“We’re also connecting them with different organizations in the community,” says Shane Morrison, the YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka youth outreach worker who co-ordinates the program. “And they get to see their work come to fruition in the community.”

The youth-led projects could last anywhere from four or five months to a year.

The mandate of the program to help team members assess their community for needs or issues, develop a service project around that, connect with an expert in the area and then get the project out with the help of community partners.

This group, he explains, originally set its sights on acquiring and setting up a community fridge. But they encountered several barriers along the way and decided instead to focus on helping those experiencing homelessness by creating care packages consisting of daily necessities.

That involved approaching and connecting with those at the Elizabeth Fry Society of Simcoe Muskoka who have experience in that area and work, hands-on, with those who will be receiving the packages.

“There’s always a need for those living unhoused,” says Tracy Wood, operations director for the Elizabeth Fry Society Simcoe Muskoka, which services those who are criminalized, unhoused, living in poverty, racialized and marginalized, some simultaneously.

Members of the group are contributing “in a very impactful way” in their efforts to give back, she adds.

The youth team members represent a cross-section of the community, from those living on their own to those attending school and living at home with their families, “all in different places in their life,” says Morrison.

But a goal of the project is sustainability, so the work doesn’t come to an end when the packages are distributed. Instead, the group shifts its attention to creating a social-media campaign with the Instagram handle of @windsofchangesm in hopes of collecting tents and sleeping bags which those at the Elizabeth Fry Society can later distribute to those who don’t have a permanent place to live.