Charitable Choices: Michelle Hodgins of Youth Central

Youth Central is a charity in Calgary focused on empowering youth through leadership and volunteer programs. They engage over 2,200 youth annually in various volunteer activities, contributing to community development and addressing challenges faced by youth, such as social inclusion, mental health, and job readiness. We spoke with Michelle Hodgins, Coordinator of Communications & Philanthropy at Youth Central, to find out more about what they do.

Youth Central

Describe your charity/non-profit/volunteer work in a few sentences.

Youth Central is a charity on a mission to empower youth to find and build their communities. For 30+ years, we’ve provided Calgary youth aged 12 – 18 experiential learning through leadership and volunteer programs that serve as a springboard for youth development.

We engage over 2,200 youth annually who contribute tens of thousands of hours of valuable time, skills and labour to support the work of more than 100 community organizations, helping them support seniors, the environment, newcomers and many other vital causes.

What problem does it aim to solve?

Youth today are vulnerable. They are facing down polarization and division in society and the constant distraction of social media. Surging costs of housing and food, along with increased competition for youth entering the workforce are adding to the challenges. To thrive in this new normal, they need strong social support networks, a sense of purpose and strong communication and team skills, especially after years of pandemic and digital isolation.

Youth Central addresses key challenges faced by youth including social inclusion, mental health, and job readiness. Our programs measurably and consistently instil confidence, foster social connections, and cultivate invaluable skills, experience, and references that are crucial for future employment or education.

We work with diverse youth including those who excel academically, those who depend on alternative education pathways, and youth navigating the criminal justice system. A significant portion of youth participants identify as BIPOC (74%), newcomers to Canada (35%), and LGBTQ+ (4%+).

Many local organizations rely on volunteer power to deliver their impactful programs and serve vulnerable clients, yet volunteer rates are plummeting across Canada. With record numbers of youth volunteers ready to help, we’re helping organizations build capacity and developing future advocates for their causes.

When did you start/join it? What made you want to get involved?

In 2012 a friend connected me with Youth Central, and I was so excited to take on a new challenge with a dynamic organization. I am passionate about building community and connecting youth with opportunities to make a difference.

What was the situation like when you started?

The staff at Youth Central are capable people who really care about their work. It was contagious.

When I started, Youth Central had been around for 20 years and adapted along the way as needed. Established as a go-to organization for youth in Calgary who were seeking connection and experience, Youth Central benefitted from word of mouth from active volunteers to build our credibility throughout local junior and senior high schools. Strong youth endorsement was also crucial for growing our partnerships with organizations in need of volunteers in Calgary.

How has it changed since?

We are all seeking more community connections in a post-COVID world, and this is particularly true for youth between the ages of 12-18 who missed out on key social development years. So although adult volunteer rates are significantly down across Canada, the opposite story is true for youth. Youth want to connect and to give back, and they are also increasingly looking to do that with peers, and with purpose.

Whether there are social causes that they feel personally invested in, or current issues that they see as contributing to the increased environmental or economic anxiety of their generation, youth are looking to get involved. They want to be a part of creating positive change and they are willing to lend their time, their voices, their talents, and most precious these days, their attention, to the causes that matter to them.

Youth unemployment is a pressing issue. Statistics Canada reports young people facing double the unemployment rate of adults. Inflation has added pressure to everyone and youth now face increased competition with adults for job opportunities. In response, youth are increasingly seeking volunteer work to increase their job readiness.

You don’t need a resume or references to volunteer. Without those barriers, youth can start right away. They can try many different things according to their own availability while building essential skills and experience that will ultimately improve their access to meaningful paid employment.

What more needs to be done?

Our communities need to invest in helping youth build those social and communication skills, not just to make up for lost time during the pandemic and competition with screens, but also in a world with AI, our humanity and interconnectedness become more important.

Despite volunteer shortages nationally, we’ve seen an average 50% increase yearly in youth seeking opportunities, with over 1,800 currently registered. We are working to connect these interested youth with more opportunities for social engagement with more diverse projects and organizations willing to welcome youth volunteers.

We see a future where all youth participate in creating vibrant communities. The payoff is a future with more social connectedness, not less, and active citizens who don’t just feel responsible for their communities, but who feel like capable agents of change. Together we can create this future by investing in the social, interpersonal, and skill development of youth. The first steps are knowing that they are willing, believing that they are capable, and then inviting them to help.

How can our readers help?

– Make a financial gift to our organization to help us level up our programs to meet the rising demand for meaningful youth programming. A gift of $50 sets up a meaningful and safe 2-hour community service volunteer project for 12 youth. All gifts will be matched up to 50% by Rogers Birdies for Kids presented by Altalink.

– If you are part of or know an organization in need of volunteers, consider whether the project could be supported by youth (12-18) and connect with us.

– Donate snacks or experiences for volunteer recognition. We always make it a priority to recognize current volunteers for all the valuable ways they give their time and talents.

Do you have any events coming up?

Sign up for our newsletter to be notified of our impact event coming up this fall by sending a note to communications@youthcentral.com

Where can we follow you?

WebsiteInstagramFacebook

PAY IT FORWARD: What is an awesome local charity that you love?

We are currently doing a big build project with the Oakridge Community Association. The Oakridge Community Gardens are dedicated to engaging in waterwise practices to conserve our precious freshwater resources.

Youth volunteers are helping to deconstruct garden beds, relocate soil, and position the new beds. They will also help reclaim the wood that was used to construct the old garden beds and convert them into “bee boxes”, which will encourage residents to plant small garden boxes of flowers to help feed the bees.

 

About Emilea Semancik 111 Articles
Emilea Semancik was born in North Vancouver. Emilea has always always wanted to work as a freelance writer and currently writes for the Vancouver Guardian. Taking influence from journalism culture surrounding the great and late Anthony Bourdain, she is a recipe author working towards publishing her own series of books. You can find her food blog on Instagram: