Kids in need turning to safe, fun spaces that nurture positive mental health

3 MIN READ

Story highlights:

  • Kids in Ottawa’s low-income neighbourhoods face additional stressors and need healthy, safe outlets.

  • A recent study by Ottawa Public Health confirms the pandemic’s toll on the mental health of many local youth, especially those who are socioeconomically disadvantaged.
      
  • United Way works with partners like Christie Lake Kids in an effort to give every child a chance to thrive, no matter their personal circumstances. 

“To me, Christie Lake Kids was always a home, always a safe place where I got to be a kid and be myself and not have to worry about the stresses or whatever is happening at home.”

Esther first joined Christie Lake Kids’ after-school programming in Carlington when she was eight years old and 16 years later, she’s still with the organization. Her dedication speaks to the experiences she had as a child and up through her most formative years. 

“Some kids come from, of course, not great backgrounds and they’re always sort of the ‘adult’ at home or something like that, so they don’t really get the opportunity to be a kid,” Esther explains. “But when they come to the programs, we actually get to let them be themselves – they don’t really have to be responsible aside from themselves.” 

Christie Lake Kids runs no cost and barrier-free after-school programs in 10 locations across six of Ottawa’s low-income communities, serving about 600 kids every year. 

Providing emotional support in times of need 

United Way believes every child has the right to a good life, and a safe place to grow up, learn, and make good friends—no matter where they live or their personal circumstances. 

It’s been well documented that the pandemic continues to exacerbate mental health struggles for young people, and we know kids in low-income neighbourhoods are affected to an even greater degree. 

A recent study by Ottawa Public Health shows 44 per cent of the city’s youth in Grades 7 through 12 reported fair or poor mental health, which is more than double the figure from 2019. For young people living in low socioeconomic circumstances that number jumps to 66 per cent. 

That’s why our partnership with Christie Lake Kids is so important.   

In their programs, kids get the chance to try all kinds of activities, from basketball and soccer to martial arts, at no cost, and for participants, the programs become much more than just something to keep them occupied. 

“When they first start, they are a little nervous, it’s like the first day of school, so they are a little shy,” says Program Supervisor Rachel Manyonga. “But once they get to know us, [they tend to start] opening up about their feelings – how they feel at home, at school, and even being here.”

Having an environment where kids can have fun, but also talk to someone about their struggles, is just another reason people like Esther stay connected with Christie Lake through their youth and beyond. 

“The staff are always welcoming and are always excited to see you from week-to-week. I remember that as a kid and I still remember that now,” she says. “They care and actually listen to what you have to say, and it’s not just, ‘You’re a kid. Go away.’ It’s, ‘Okay, what do you have to say? Speak it. Okay, let’s figure out how to problem solve, let’s figure out how to get past this issue.’” 

“You develop your social skills and learn a lot to meet new people. Like, at the beginning I didn’t know anyone here. And then I met them and got to know each other and became friends.”

United Way partners with local, front-line agencies to deliver vital programs and services that help improve lives, break down barriers, and create opportunities for our region’s most vulnerable people. In addition to after-school programs like the ones at Christie Lake Kids, these also include early-childhood education, support for young parents, school-based addiction counselling, and supports for youth experiencing homelessness. 

“Christie Lake Kids is a really proud partner of United Way. We’ve been in partnership for more than 30 years. We couldn’t run our amazing programs for children and youth without the United Way.” 

Help provide safe spaces and opportunities for kids in low-income neighbourhoods. 

This story first appeared on United Way East Ontario’s website. As your connection to the work of United Way in our region, GenNext East Ontario is committed to bringing you stories like this to demonstrate the impact your support makes.

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Jazz found a job he loves at Krackers Katering, a social enterprise that employs people with disabilities and mental health challenges, empowering them to overcome barriers and achieve their goals.
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