Community Youth Program Creating a Healthier and Safer Thunder Bay with Support from Local Mentors

Currently in its tenth community session, 134 youth have successfully graduated from the CHOICES program that was introduced in Thunder Bay in 2012. This is a statistic that program partners, St. Joseph’s Care Group, Children’s Centre Thunder Bay, and Thunder Bay Counselling are applauding as supporting a healthier and safer life for young people living in Thunder Bay. Building on its success, CHOICES is now being offered in local schools.

“CHOICES is all about youth becoming great community members; “ explains CHOICES Program Coordinator, Pia Heikkinen. The program encourages young people to think and act positively by building self-esteem and helping them learn valuable life skills. Participating youth are learning strategies so they are able to make positive choices and avoid negativity; they gain self-confidence and self-awareness that really prepares and supports them to do great things in Thunder Bay.”

The CHOICES Program is a ten-week, free, intervention/prevention social skills program geared to provide support to youth between the ages of twelve to seventeen who are at risk. Youth facing difficulties such as anger, peer pressure, substance use, shoplifting, vandalism and truancy meet weekly to participate in activities that focus on topics such as decision-making and goal setting.

The program sessions are led by volunteer mentors from the community who are provided with specific training. Volunteer Pam Hardisty, who has been a mentor for seven sessions explains that the young people of today will lead the communities of our future. “Their health and well-being is not only what they deserve as individuals, but what communities require to thrive. “Teens” are walking marvels: arguing, questioning, challenging, pushing, pulling, searching, insisting, asserting, hiding, yelling, listening, laughing, crying and thinking their way towards adulthood. It’s a great feeling to help young people positively change their lives and to see them move forward making more positive life choices.”

Continues Hardisty; “In teaching skills that help youth develop the positive habits that lead to personal safety, community safety is increased. The life skills youth take with them from the CHOICES program are meant to kick-start a lifetime of positive, cooperative decision-making resulting in less crime and violence in both their personal lives and the community at large.”

Following graduation from the CHOICES program, parents are reporting improvements in their children at school, increased self-esteem and confidence, and a better understanding about the negative effects of drug and alcohol abuse.

“I learned how to move on with my life. It helped me become a better person. Also how to say no to people that talk me into things that I don’t want to do.” – Youth Participant

“The program taught me to keep my head high and always believe in myself. It helped me understand that people have my back and they have gone through similar situations.”- Youth Participant

The CHOICES Program was recently presented with one of six Mayor’s Community Safety Awards for making Thunder Bay a safer community. Applications are now being accepted for the next CHOICES Program community session. For more information please visit: tbaycounselling.com or call (807) 684-1880.