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Vital Signs: Investing in youth pays off

The recent fine weather of the long weekend, the Victoria Day parade and the welcome sight of tourists once again filling our streets all combine to give our community a sense of celebration at this time of year.

The recent fine weather of the long weekend, the Victoria Day parade and the welcome sight of tourists once again filling our streets all combine to give our community a sense of celebration at this time of year.

The numerous high school graduations at venues around the city add to this sense of occasion, highlighting a bright future for many of our young citizens. Taking a closer look, however, you may find another side of our youth community; one that isn’t as positive or optimistic.

The eighth issue of the Victoria’s Vital Signs report highlighted several disturbing statistics concerning our younger residents. We learned that nearly 20 per cent of the respondents to our Youth Vital Signs survey had experienced homelessness, while 19 per cent were unemployed and looking for work. Given these results, it was no surprise to hear that one-third of youth also felt highly stressed about their finances.

Many of the youth who completed the survey often felt lonely (17 per cent) and a modest 64 per cent felt connected to their community, continuing a downward trend in this statistic (88 per cent in 2011 and 71 per cent in 2012).

Despite the popular notion of carefree, laid-back young adults, we know that life for those aged 15 to 24 can be difficult at times. Pressures such as educational demands, employment challenges and social stresses can prove overwhelming. Our survey results illustrate the need to pay attention to the needs of this segment of our population and to seek ways that we can take positive steps towards brightening the future for all young Greater Victorians.

In the spirit of this approach, this month also marked the 10th anniversary of the Victoria Foundation’s Vital Youth program. The program provides students with hands-on experience in philanthropy and community development in eight high schools including Belmont Secondary, Frances Kelsey Secondary, Oak Bay High, St. Michaels University School, Parkland Secondary, Stelly’s Secondary, Reynolds Secondary, and Victoria High.

Collectively, the students awarded $20,000 this year, bringing the 10-year total to more than $170,000 granted to 108 local charitable organizations. 2014’s Vital Youth grants went to 13 different charities, ranging from major organizations like the MS Society of Canada to small, local organizations like the Victoria Youth Clinic and the Victoria READ Society, often to address youth needs.

Besides the obvious benefits of funding worthy local charities, the Vital Youth program provides participants with an opportunity to be acutely involved in examining and responding to the needs of our community. Students learn first-hand what it takes to make the difficult choices of applying limited resources. As a result, they often begin a life-long appreciation for personal philanthropy and volunteerism.

Like so many of the persistent issues prevalent in our region, those that involve youth will not be easily or quickly addressed. But with understanding, knowledge, and collective involvement, we can make improvements to the lives of our young people, both for today and for the future.

Sandra Richardson is the CEO of the Victoria Foundation.