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Survival skills of life
Arviat program earning rave reviews helping at-risk youths

Darrell Greer
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A program focusing on at-risk youths is earning rave reviews in Arviat.

NNSL photo/graphic

Jackie Komak does his part by helping to paint the wall of the new Leadership Resiliency Program room at John Arnalukjuak High School in Arviat. - photo courtesy of Gord Billard

Students are referred to the Leadership Resiliency Program (LRP) by a teacher for various reasons, which could include not attending school, struggling with emotional or psychological problems, showing some sort of difficulty in their lives or attempting suicide.

In every case, the referral is made in hopes the youth will benefit from being involved in the program.

Ideally the LRP catches youths who, otherwise, may slip through the cracks.

While it operates out of John Arnalukjuak High School, it is its own program and not a school initiative.

One LRP facilitator, Gord Billard, said Arviat is fortunate to have received funding for the five-year program through the National Crime Prevention Centre.

He said the LRP would benefit every Northern and First Nations community.

"Outside evaluators come in to check the program and see if it's accomplishing something in our community, so it's being measured in terms of its impact, said Billard."

"During every LRP get-together, we go around the circle and ask the kids, on a scale of 10, how they're doing.

"If they report a low score, we invite them to share why and most of them do.

"That's something I've never seen before in any type of program, initiative or regular classroom."

Billard said the approach could be incorporated into daily teaching.

He said a show of genuine interest can mean a lot.

"I find it a lot better to ask how they're feeling, rather than asking if their homework is done and telling them to take their coats off, sit down and be quiet.

"Sometimes that can make all the difference with someone's outlook."

Billard said the LRP is set up to do just what its name implies: give the youth leadership skills and teach them how to be resilient.

He said each skill is important, such as setting goals, building and maintaining healthy relationships, and using strategies to cope with difficulties and bounce back.

"Really, we're talking about survival skills in how to deal with the difficulties they face on a daily basis.

"It's about how to get through the rough times and be able to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, feel good about yourself and move on instead of giving up."

The LRP is now in its second school year in Arviat and assistant co-ordinator Amanda McLaughlin said it's running strongly, with feedback indicating the participating youths are improving various aspects of their lives.

She said there's been an improvement with each and every youth in the program.

"Services in the community are receiving good feedback on the kids in the LRP," said McLaughlin.

"They're showing a more positive thought process, improvements to their self-esteem and involvement in the community.

"So, overall, it's been a positive program within the community and school setting."

McLaughlin said as far as she's aware, there's never been any stigma attached to the youths in the LRP.

She said while it does target at-risk youths, the LRP is viewed the same as any other new program in that it's a new resource for youths.

"The community is very aware the LRP is here and I haven't heard of any youth experiencing any stigma or negative attachment from being a participant in the program.

"If there is, in fact, any negative feedback, it's far outweighed by the positives."

McLaughlin volunteered her time with the LRP when it first started before officially joining its ranks this past August.

She said still being fairly new to the community, there's also been a learning curve to the program for her.

"I didn't come with any preconceived notions about the program or the youths.

"I came to Arviat as a social worker before coming into this program.

"I'm taking it day by day getting to know these kids and getting them to trust me.

"In many ways, I'm learning as much as the kids are and getting to know them through this program."

McLaughlin said she's seen a number of positive attachments develop among the LRP's participating youths, such as attending school on a more regular basis, being more involved in service activities and seeing their community in a different light.

She said they're learning the benefits of conflict management, coping strategies and goal setting.

"They're, very much, becoming more self-aware and building on their self-esteem while using these new tools within their community.

"They're also getting involved in activities such as the photography club, sports teams and the Junior Rangers.

"So, they're making connections to other youth and becoming more involved in both internal and external programs.

"This program is in its infancy, but, during the short time we've been on the ground running, I've definitely seen improvements, so it's been very valuable and positive for the community of Arviat."

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