Vital People: New van will help Sanctuary Youth Centre get kids out in nature

Vital People: New van will help Sanctuary Youth Centre get kids out in nature
CHEK

Sanctuary Youth Centre staff are excited to show off their new set of wheels.

“There’s been a lot of times when my car has been very, very, very full and a lot of kilometres,” says Sanctuary Youth Centre Victoria program manager Bella Smid.

For the last nine years, staff have been using their own vehicles to transport youth, pick up weekly food orders, and even help kids move.

“What happens with youth is when they have to move, it’s usually very urgent,” Bella explains. “It’s very, like can you help me now? And youth also don’t tend to really pack their items. They don’t put them in boxes. And so usually it takes many trips.”

So Sanctuary launched the ROLL campaign, which stands for reliance, outdoors, learning and logistics, to fundraise for the van, which will also be used to get kids out in nature.

“We want to take them to experience the outdoors, to get out and to get it away from the downtown core, which I think can often feed a lot of unhealthy behaviour,” Sanctuary executive director Darin Reimer says.

“The hikes do amazing things for the kids,” Bella adds. “If we leave them to their own devices here, they’ll basically sit on the couch and look at their phones and when we get them out in nature, like just the conversations that happen, there’s more talking and more interaction.”

Despite being surrounded by beauty, many of the struggling kids they work with rarely get a chance to experience the outdoors.

But after just three hikes, the power of nature has already helped at least one 17-year-old get on a better path.

“Prior to that, he overdosed four times,” Darin explains. “We nearly lost him four times. And when I overdose, I mean he was within minutes of dying and thankfully that we were able to administer Naloxone.”

Staff say they’ve seen a big increase in substance use and mental health issues since COVID, as more and more young people struggle.

“I think we underestimate how much mental health has been affected by the pandemic and now we’re seeing those results and unfortunately, you know, when kids are bored, that is a recipe for them to do things,” Bella says.

Bella knows first-hand how hard it is to break the cycle of addiction — her own son is battling that demon.

“Sometimes I don’t know where he is staying or how to get in contact with him,” she says. “And it’s a very high-risk lifestyle, so as a mom, it is very difficult.”

Bella uses that painful personal experience to connect with other kids.

“If they have developed a relationship with a safe adult, that might be the only person that can reach them at that time,” she says. “And those are the critical moments.”

Sanctuary still needs donations for the ongoing van costs.

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