USJE helps bring summer camp to Kingston kids

USJE’s donation to Youth Diversion Program’s 2020 summer camp program has given more children in the Kingston, Ontario region the chance to experience a stay-at-home camp.

Youth Diversion received $1,000 from our Community Safety and Outreach Initiative, set up in 2019 as part of a three-year strategic plan for USJE. Four strong projects from across the country were selected and funded from a host of applications. Our Union believes that union involvement is not limited solely to our workplaces but that we have an important role to play in strengthening the communities we live in as well.

At its core, the Youth Diversion Program is about helping local youth overcome some of life’s more difficult challenges. And they’ve been doing it successfully since 1974.

Once you familiarize yourself with all the different services they provide, it’s staggering. The Youth Diversion Program in Kingston shows real leadership for at-risk youth in Canada.

Youth Division have an Outreach program, two crime prevention programs – REBOUND and a personal mentoring program – two amazing school-based programs, and two youth justice programs, as well as a substance use and addictions counselling program. All focused on early intervention and keeping kids out of the judicial system whenever possible.

And they have their summer program, an outdoor survival-based camp that includes canoeing, swimming and other outdoor camping activities. The original intention of USJE’s donation was to enable a child whose family normally could not afford it, to be able to send their child to a summer camp for a few weeks.

Of course, the coronavirus pandemic changed how we all spent our summers, didn’t it?

Amanda Dyson, an outreach worker with Youth Diversion, explained:

“Yes, as you can imagine, a lockdown during a global pandemic is going to affect our summer camp program. But it was okay! We have a pretty strong team, a creative team, and so we got together. And it was clear that families still needed us.”

The Youth Diversion Program responded in fine form.

“This year, it was more about providing a little bit of mental health and wellness for the kids in the community who were somewhat ‘trapped’ by the pandemic lockdown,” said Dyson. “Some families were struggling with what to do and how to fill their time, so we decided to put together different activity kits that families could pick up and bring home to complete as they wished.”

The activity kits became 2020’s version of a summer camp. For six weeks of the summer, every Wednesday, Youth Diversion staff and volunteers would hand out activity bags with snacks and different puzzles, Zen garden kits, slime-making kits, painting kits and colouring books with markers. They ensured that the activities were varied in skill level from week to week to target different age groups of kids.

“We would also include a Zoom link with (the kits) when we were doing the activity as a group if participants wanted to do it together,” Dyson added. “So sometimes they joined the Zoom call, or sometimes they would just do the activity on their own time, but there was lots of feedback from both kids and parents, who said they appreciated having something different to do during the day.”

Week one began modestly to see what the reception would be like. Eleven kits were picked up. But as the summer went on and word spread about what Youth Diversion was doing, it increased to 15 kits, then 20, and then 25 kits by the end of the summer program. In total, over 110 activity kits were distributed to youth in the Kingston area in six weeks.

“We have some partner groups in the city, like Family & Child Services, so word spread pretty steadily,” said Dyson. “We even had partners come pick up kits and deliver them to group homes, or rural-area children who don’t have the means to come get the activity bags, so it was a well-coordinated approach that had some real impact. And it didn’t cost a lot of money. It was more about time and effort.”

All tolled, the six-week summer program run by Youth Diversion was funded by $3,500 in donations from USJE, the United Way, and Family & Children’s Services.

USJE is proud to support groups like Kingston’s Youth Diversion Program. The depth of pro-social programs they provide for local youth is something that makes our communities stronger, and it should be modelled across the country.