Cat is a bubbly and chatty 17-year-old who is always smiling and laughing. If you met her, you’d find it hard to believe she wasn’t always that way.
Cat joined Youth Voices, a United Way-funded writing program for youth in care, when she was 14. She says its where she found herself, her voice, and her family.
“I was very shy my whole life,” said Cat. “Talking to people is a skill that I have gained since joining the program,” which she describes as a therapeutic support group and youth writing program rolled into one.
Without Youth Voices I wouldn’t be who I am. I really did find my voice here.
Youth Voices is a literacy and life skills program for adolescent youth in care. It provides a stable, comfortable space for the youth to gather, learn from and support one another through their shared experience. Youth who participate improve their writing and verbal communication, cooperative learning, and employability skills, while building self-confidence, self-reliance, and a social connection.
“Our program fills a gap within the community of youth in care, as the only group of its kind in Nova Scotia,” says program coordinator Ammy. “We provide the opportunity for youth in care to come together in a place where they belong, in a world that tells them they do not.”
Cat agrees: “No matter where you come from or what is going on in your life, we won’t turn you away. This is a home, a safe place, and a family.”
Participants meet every Wednesday from October to June, at Veith House in Halifax’s North End (another UW-funded organization). Each week, the youth are given writing assignments – including free writes, which are Cat’s personal favourite.
“We get a journal for our assignments, and it’s a place to get it all out. My go-to is poetry or spoken word.”
At the end the school year, they compile their stories and photos to produce their own newsletter. A proud ambassador, Cat hands the newsletter out at school, at libraries, to her social worker, other foster families – basically everywhere she can!
Cat admits the opportunity to earn money is what initially persuaded her to join when she was 14; each participant receives a monthly $80 stipend if they complete their assignments, show up every week, and actively participate. But she soon realized the support and connection was priceless.
“I never felt like I truly belonged anywhere on this earth until I joined the program. The staff took me under their wing and helped shape me into the person I am now.
Cat’s passion for Youth Voices shines through every time she talks about it, and Ammy says the team is very proud of her growth.
“Cat has become a key member of our team. She has lots of ideas for recruitment and is well on her way to becoming a facilitator, and a peer support for new members.”