The Urban Aboriginal Family Resource Centre brings a collaborative approach to helping youth seek the good life

Up until a year ago, school attendance was a challenge for Harmoni Bunnie. As she approached high school, Harmoni’s interest in classes was dwindling. Her mother wanted to see her succeed, but didn’t know how to help her along. After hearing about the Youth Navigator program, a new initiative from Edmonton’s Urban Aboriginal Family Resource Centre (UAFRC), she thought it might be a tool to help her daughter forge a path in life.

The Youth Navigator program aims to provide individualized support to aboriginal youth in need of guidance in a number of difficult areas, including school attendance, substance abuse and crime. With funding assistance from United Way, the program focuses on improving the lives of local aboriginal youth by addressing the challenges facing their communities. The program is a one-to-one support system that pairs youth in need of assistance with a Youth Navigator dedicated to helping them through their personal obstacles. Through their engagement with the program, the teens build trust and develop life skills that will aid them in finding the right path.

“The scope of issues and struggles that these young people face is huge. We’re working with them individually, with where they’re at, to help guide them through barriers and on to more positive things in their life,” says Jodene McIsaac, acting program manager for youth services at UAFRC.

Youth can be referred for placement with a Navigator by family, friends, teachers or even themselves. Once the UAFRC receives a referral, which includes specific details on the young person’s individual situation, the youth is matched with one of the Navigators. Each of the Navigators has unique strengths, which are also taken into account in the pairing. Workers build relationships with the youth, and assist them in finding their own identities as aboriginal teens.

After being referred to the program by her mother, Harmoni met with Jennifer Bryce, one of the UAFRC’s Youth Navigators. Through one-on-one meetings and regular check-ins, Harmoni says her motivation has increased. “Jen is so positive, she’s got such a positive energy,” she says.

Some of the values of our agency are interconnectedness, relationships and cultural connection, so we work with them on these values,” says Jodene. “We want them to make better choices, have more positive thinking, and have better community engagement.”

The three Youth Navigators in the program typically carry a case load of 12-15 teens each. This means that Jennifer’s busy schedule won’t always allow for in-person meetings with Harmoni. Instead, Jennifer goes the extra mile by staying in touch through regular phone calls and text messages.

“I go to school now, and I’m looking for a job,” Harmoni says. “The program is what really helped me. I probably wouldn’t have done this much without it.”

While the program has shown promising results, the UAFRC hopes to bring on additional youth workers to meet rising demands. Due to the customized and personal nature of each Youth Navigator relationship, capacity for additional cases is needed to build on the program’s successes so far.