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Youth One reopens, hopes to combat mental health and isolation struggles in Lethbridge

Click to play video '‘They need a place to be and belong’: youth group to resume in-person programs in Lethbridge' ‘They need a place to be and belong’: youth group to resume in-person programs in Lethbridge
WATCH ABOVE: Youth One staff and volunteers have continued to engage with their members online during the COVID-19 pandemic, but say the personal connection is important to get back. Eloise Therien has the details on how they plan to safely reopen next week – Oct 1, 2020

A Lethbridge youth group is planning on resuming its programs on Monday following nearly half a year of closure due to COVID-19.

Formed in Lethbridge in 2014 with the help of The Bridges of Hope, Youth One has served approximately 1,300 students in the city through after school, lunch and seasonal programs.

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“A lot of churches have groups, but a lot of people don’t feel safe going to church groups,” said program director Noah Biddlecombe.

“We wanted to start Youth One as a place for everyone to come and feel safe.”

The group is completely free for participants and is 100 per cent community funded, run by a mixture of paid staff and volunteers.

After seeing the difficulties of continuing communication with their members over virtual means, the group decided it was time to reopen its physical location on 13th street N.

“We realized very quickly that mental health concerns were on the rise with young people,” Biddlecombe said.

“They’re secluded from their friends, from school, from normal life.”

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Biddlecombe said Youth One currently has around 550 students aged 11-18 registered for programs, and it has restructured sizes and times to be able to accommodate social distancing.

“We’ve moved into doing smaller groups of like 20 students at a time, instead of the 40 to 80 that we could see on a day.”

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While the group was on a hiatus, it was able to replace some of the fabric couches with leather furniture, making sanitization much easier. As well, exterior improvements were added to freshen up the building.

Although the programs are free, Youth One says it takes approximately $400,000 per year to remain fully operational.

“Honestly I would say the majority of money donated goes toward food,” Biddlecombe admitted. “Every single group that we run has a meal for every student.”

Read more: 10 per cent of Saskatchewan residents struggling with pandemic stress: poll

Dr. Daniel Zoboula, CEO of The Bridges of Hope, says he’s very excited to see the work being done by its partners.

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“Young people are becoming more and more depressed and isolated, and they need a place to be and belong,” he said.

“Groups like Youth One provide a [kind] of safety and a sense of normality in this abnormal environment.”

For Ariana Jephtas-Crail, that’s exactly what it did. She joined the group at the suggestion of her mother and spent about two years attending.

“All of the people that I met through Youth One were so kind and loving and accepting,” she said.  “No matter what problems you had, where you were from, how much money you had.”

She adds despite not being a part of the group anymore, she is glad it is able to reopen for those that might need it.

“I always think about how shy I was and how damaged I was, and then just the person I am today,” Jephtas-Crail said.

“How good it is that they’re giving the same services to other kids that were like me.”