INNISFAIL – The town is investing $20,000 into a regional youth mental health preventative program that has successfully supported thousands of young people in Central Alberta communities since 2007.
On April 26, town council unanimously supported a request by Karen Bradbury, the town’s community and social development coordinator, to approve the funding for the Youth Empowerment & Support Program (YES), which is already serving young students in Elnora, Delburne, Bowden, Spruce View, Olds, Didsbury and Carstairs.
Last year alone, the program supported more than 3,500 students in 52 targeted groups.
“This is extremely important. The kids have gone through so much over the last year,” said Coun. Jean Barclay. “Any way we can support them the better it is. Hopefully this will have a great impact on them and I am really pleased that we have supported the program.”
Raelynn Notley, the mental health capacity building program manager, said YES is expected to offer fulltime programming to 864 Innisfail elementary and middle school students this coming September.
She said Brian George, a current YES success coach in Spruce View and Bowden, will be reassigned to work full time in Innisfail, with after school programming open to all students “based on community needs”.
Notley added Yes will complement the current family wellness programs that are running in Innisfail schools.
“We are very proud of our work and very happy to be expanding. Any opportunity to move into another community we embrace it,” said Notley, who works out of Olds and has been the lead with the regional YES program since 2007.
“We are incredibly excited for this funding partnership between Chinook’s Edge School Division and Innisfail FCSS. Karen Bradbury is a strong advocate for positive youth development and we look forward to our collaboration with FCSS and all other community partners.”
She added that with the COVID-19 having such a devastating impact on the lives of young students and their families the YES program has become “exceptionally important”, even though its delivery has been forced to go online to ensure continuity for the young.
“We are seeing students now who have never struggled before, starting to struggle,” said Notley. “Students who were really involved in extracurricular activities, such as sports or art programs no longer have those outlets as ways to support their mental health. We have actually seen an increase in students needing additional layers of support because they’ve had so many different things taken away from them this year.”
The YES program is a preventative mental health initiative funded by Alberta Health Services, with support from local FCSS grants, that began in the Chinook’s Edge School Division 14 years ago. It is designed to build emotional and mental health strength in all students and their families.
The program’s goal is to increase mental health by expanding knowledge and skills of children and youth to support them to make healthy choices and adopt behaviors to self-protect their physical and mental health at the earliest age possible.
Using an integrated collaborative approach, the YES program is designed to offer mental health prevention and promotion by means of universal and targeted supports to children and youth from kindergarten to Grade 8.
“In consultation with several community partners there has been an increased need identified for mental health supports in Innisfail and surrounding communities due to the impact of COVID 19,” said Notley. “By responding to the social and emotional needs of children and youth at an early age to promote positive mental health and wellbeing we can potentially avoid chronic mental health problems from developing in the future, or from becoming more severe.”
Mayor Jim Romane is welcoming the YES program. He noted it’s a “testy” time now for youth and parents dealing with the impact of COVID and believes YES is an initiative that will benefit many in the community.
“It has got to be a bit of a nightmare with COVID, what’s right, what’s wrong and hopefully we can get people involved,” said Romane. “Who knows what is best for everybody? But at least you are getting it right from the kids, and they’ve got an opportunity to express themselves.”
Any Innisfail parent or local teacher who wants to know more about YES he or she can email Notley at: firstname.lastname@example.org