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*This story was written by Stacey Colliver, Director of Community Relations at Community Justice Initiatives

Since 2016, Reception House Waterloo Region has been jointly delivering the New Canadian Youth Connections (NCYC) with Community Justice Initiatives (CJI). This program serves newcomer youth, with a focus on building relationships and forming community using restorative justice practices 

Traditionally, NCYC programming has featured homework support, educational workshopsfield trips and recreational programming. But, as with all aspects of our lives, COVID-19 has meant that we needed to reimagine the way we work. 

When it became unsafe for us to meet in person in March, Homework Club moved online so students could continue to connect and access school support weekly. Before beginning the virtual club, NCYC staff ensured that all youth had access to laptops or tablets, and provided devices to anyone who was in need of one to join the virtual gatherings.  

We cannot overstate how grateful we are for our NCYC volunteers who have been incredibly accommodating and flexible during these unprecedented times as we learn how to work with our participants in new ways. Although the school year has ended for the summer, homework club continues for any students who are taking summer classes and may need assistance. 

In addition, we’re testing alternative ways of using social media to connect with youth in the NCYC program. Zoom and Instagram Live have been used to bring guest speakers to NCYC, including a workshop on mental health. We’re working to schedule more guest speakers over the summer.  

As it becomes safe to do so, we’re planning to resume inperson meetings, so long as social distancing can be maintained and meetings are conducted in an outdoor space. We know that online contact sometimes lacks the same qualities as in person meetings, and that increasing the quality of our interactions is important to providing support to newcomer youth. In addition, afall approaches, we are planning to create online focus groups to conduct evaluations for the program, in order to better serve the newcomer youth participating in NCYC.  

2020 has been a challenging year – for individuals, families and community agencies alike. We know that newcomer youth are facing additional barriers to community integration during this time, and are at increasing risk of social isolation. CJI and Reception House staff and volunteers are working hard to continue to provide support to newcomer youth in our community. We are thankful to our volunteers, who continue to provide support to this program. And we are thankful to the youth, who are persevering against continued challenges.