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Planned Mental Health Summit Shows Power of Letting Youth Lead

FLOH turns decision-making and organizing over to young people in the Fraser Valley.

By Katie Hyslop 31 Jan 2019 | TheTyee.ca

Katie Hyslop is The Tyee’s education and youth reporter. Find her previous stories here.

When Marcie Pruden applied for funding last year to hold a youth mental health summit in Abbotsford that would be led by young people, she wanted to show service providers what youth could do on their own.

As the new regional facilitator for FLOH (Foster System, Life Promotion, Opioid Dialogue, and Harm Reduction/Homelessness), a youth-led program started by the non-profit Matsqui Abbotsford IMPACT Society in 2018, Pruden saw the Balancing Our Minds summit as a way to meet the organization’s goal of a major project that FLOH groups in Abbotsford, Coquitlam, Chilliwack and Mission could host together.

The catch? The application to the Canucks for Kids Fund and BC Children’s Hospital required FLOH to have a conference plan in place before applying for funding.

With just a week and a half before the deadline, Pruden, 18, and her fellow FLOH facilitators managed to find a venue, they confirmed 15 youth to speak on issues like domestic violence, mental health, homelessness and addictions, then they organized buses, and they also secured commitments from 12 Fraser Valley schools that students could attend.

“They wanted us to confirm everything before sending it in,” Pruden said. “It was the busiest week of my life. It was really awesome.”

Their hustle worked. FLOH received $4,000 to organize the conference, which is scheduled for Feb. 15 at W.J. Mouat Secondary in Abbotsford. All 180 seats were reserved within three days of announcing the free summit earlier this month.

“The main goal of this whole [summit] is to show service providers and youth that it’s possible for youth to put something like this together,” said Pruden. “We’re giving these youth trust and respect, and that’s one of the biggest things youth can be given.”

FLOH “is a youth-led project” to give “youth a chance to take a step up in their communities and start really cool projects with the support of adults but without adults leading it,” said Pruden. The project was founded with over $200,000 in funding from the province, Vancouver Foundation and Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research and others.

FLOH hired four youth as “FLOHcilitators” to lead local groups in Abbotsford, Chilliwack, Coquitlam and Mission. They held weekly meetings with youth volunteers who want to be engaged in the community. While not a requirement for participation, FLOH aims to put the experiences and needs of youth 14 to 24 who identify as Indigenous and/or have history in the child welfare system at the centre of its programs.

For Pruden, whose job is to provide support for all FLOH groups, the experience has been life changing. It’s something she hopes to pass onto other youth she works with.

“When I was given opportunities like these to have a place to belong and have people who believed in me, it’s literally changed my whole life,” she said. “It’s definitely more than just a project of youth doing projects — it’s youth supporting other youth in the way that life treats them.”

What community engagement looks like depends on the passions of the youth involved in each city. The Abbotsford FLOH team has been holding public dialogues on issues impacting youth, most recently on cannabis legalization. Coquitlam FLOH is working on a research project and conference on youth homelessness and the connection to foster care. Mission FLOH visits schools to participate in dialogues around opioid use and offer naloxone training. And Chilliwack FLOH dabbles in a little bit of everything, from community dialogues on mental health, addictions, and homelessness, to offering youth naloxone training.

Inspired by the Balancing Our Minds events held at Rogers Arena in Vancouver from 2013 to 2016 to promote youth mental health awareness and dialogue in schools, the FLOH summit is one of five youth mental health summits funded by Canucks for Kids Fund and BC Hospital for the 2018/19 school year, with others taking place in Revelstoke, Gold River, Chase and Powell River.

The summit is a chance for FLOH to take its mandate to foster inter-youth dialogue on issues they face, like suicide prevention, homelessness and drug overdoses, to a broader audience.

Discussion topics were chosen the same way individual FLOH groups pick their projects, said Jordie Lynn, 23, a former youth in care and FLOH facilitator for Abbotsford.

“It’s basically just what we’re passionate about,” said Lynn, who is participating in the summit dialogues on foster care and self-destructive tendencies. “The youth know the youth experience the best.”  [Tyee]

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