Edmonton charities collaborate with police, government to help youth stay on the right track

EDMONTON, Alberta, Aug. 03, 2023 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Youth in Edmonton have the potential to shape a bright future for our community — but they are navigating challenges that when left unsupported could lead them toward a very different path. YMCA of Northern Alberta (YMCA) and Boys & Girls Clubs Big Brothers Big Sisters of Edmonton & Area (BGCBigs) are two youth-serving organizations that experience first-hand how positive, early intervention can help our young people overcome these challenges and be set up for success. Together with the Edmonton Police Service (EPS), YMCA Youth Diversion and BGCBigs collaborate to provide this critical intervention.

Through the DIVERSIONfirst partnership, YMCA Youth Diversion and BGCBigs work with EPS to help direct youth away from the criminal justice system by intervening before they are criminally charged. These programs help support vulnerable youth to be accountable for their actions and find a positive path forward.

Homeward Trust Edmonton and the Government of Alberta have both stepped up to fund the YMCA’s and BGCBigs’ critical programs, which are invaluable tools to help counter housing insecurity and crime.

“For youth, experiencing homelessness strongly correlates to a lifetime of housing challenges, and involvement in the criminal justice system can significantly hinder their future opportunities,” said Susan McGee, Executive Director of Homeward Trust Edmonton. “This is why Homeward Trust is proud to partner with the YMCA and BGCBigs on the DIVERSIONfirst program, which works to prevent homelessness and the mental, financial and emotional toll it takes on people.”

Since its inception in 2018, DIVERSIONfirst has steered hundreds of youth away from the criminal justice system. Instead of charging youth who commit low-level offenses, EPS' DIVERSIONfirst Unit refers youth to the YMCA or BGCBigs, who then help these young people reach their full potential through developing positive mentoring relationships, bolstering their support systems and encouraging them to explore their goals in positive ways. By meeting youth where they are and building on their unique strengths, YMCA Youth Diversion and BGCBigs have an incredible impact.

“By avoiding criminalizing youth and supporting them on a positive journey forward, we can be part of the solution at this critical juncture in a young person’s life,” explained Nick Parkinson, President and CEO of YMCA of Northern Alberta. “We have seen first-hand the positive outcomes of this program and are excited to continue our partnership with EPS, BGCBigs, Homeward Trust and the Government of Alberta to continue making a difference in young people’s lives each day.”

The success of this program depends on collaboration between these agencies who all have the best interest of local youth at heart. Without the critical funding from Homeward Trust Edmonton and Government of Alberta’s Crime Prevention program, BGCBigs and the YMCA would not be able to deliver this lifechanging programming.

“So often when youth find themselves in trouble it’s because they, for one reason or another, didn’t have access to the support and resources that are so important from a young age,” said Liz O’Neill, Executive Director, BGCBigs. “We see the impacts of this program every day with the young people we work with—they forge positive relationships, build self-confidence and start to envision a brighter future for themselves that they might not have been able to see before. We’re grateful to Homeward Trust Edmonton and the Government of Alberta for seeing the value of this important work.”

About YMCA of Northern Alberta

YMCA of Northern Alberta is a registered charity dedicated to building healthy communities since 1907. From providing quality child care and supporting people in their health and wellness to providing important community outreach programs, the YMCA of Northern Alberta works to strengthen communities in the Red Deer, Wood Buffalo, Grande Prairie, and Edmonton regions. For more information, visit ymcanab.ca.

About Boys & Girls Clubs Big Brothers Big Sisters of Edmonton & Area (BGCBigs)

Boys and Girls Clubs Big Brothers Big Sisters of Edmonton and Area (BGCBigs) is a community-supported organization providing safe supportive spaces and positive mentoring relationships where young people can experience new opportunities and develop confidence and skills for life. BGCBigs Mentoring and After-School programs seek to support vulnerable children and youth challenged by the impacts of poverty. BGCBigs also works in partnership with other community organizations to develop and deliver programs geared to specific populations, such as the immigrant and refugee community, the Indigenous community and other vulnerable groups. Visit bgcbigs.ca or find BGCBigs on social media @bgcbigs.

About Homeward Trust Edmonton

As a community-based organization and system planner, we develop and implement strategies and programs to end homelessness in Edmonton. Working collaboratively with the entire homeless-serving sector, we take a community and data-informed approach to allocate funding from all orders of government to programs and projects based on potential impact and current priority needs. Guided by the Community Plan to End Homelessness, we adapt to changing community needs while working towards our end goal of providing safe and stable housing for every unhoused individual and ensuring they have the needed supports to be successful long-term. We are grateful to the Government of Canada, the Government of Alberta and the City of Edmonton for their ongoing commitment to our efforts.


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