Vital People: Victoria Foundation’s Vital Youth program celebrates 20 years

Vital People: Victoria Foundation's Vital Youth program celebrates 20 years

St. Michaels University School grade 10 students Chelsea and Deristhi are passionate about learning, and they’ve just wrapped up a real-life lesson in giving back.

“I loved how much we got to engage in our community and how much we got to learn about Greater Victoria’s problems and issues and how to solve them,” an excited Chelsea says.

They participated in the Victoria Foundation‘s Vital Youth program, which teaches students the importance of philanthropy.

“We wanted to do this program because we knew it would teach us about our community, and it really inspired us to take initiative and empowered us to make a difference,” Deristhi says.

This is the 20th year for Vital Youth, and 12 Greater Victoria Schools took part.

“I think it’s really shown youth empowerment in a really meaningful way and that youth have had an opportunity to connect with what’s important to them with what’s important to their community,” says Hayleigh Chafe of the Victoria Foundation.

Students learn about key issues flagged in the Vital Signs report, like the high cost of housing, doctor shortage, and drug toxicity deaths.

Each student leadership group is then given $3,000 and has to decide which non-profits to help.

“It was so hard!” Chelsea says. “We had a list of about 10 at the beginning, and we had to go through the Vital Signs report again and again and again to sort of narrow it down we write it down, we got it down to five and then two, and then eventually one.”

“While we were researching potential charities, we learned about the amazing work that the Umbrella Society is doing to support individuals and their loved ones struggling with substance use,” Deristhi adds.

The Umbrella Society‘s been providing mental health and substance use supports, including outreach and recovery housing, for more than 20 years.

“There’s always a high level of demand for our services, unfortunately,” says Evan James of the Umbrella Society. “Especially since the Fentanyl crisis has started, we’re seeing a huge amount of loss in the community and grief and the addiction and wreckage that goes with that.”

Evan met with the students so they could ask questions and learn more.

“The youth that do these programs that I meet with blow me away constantly,” Evan says. “The fact that they’re so interested in learning about our organization and about the different help that’s out there at such a young age is very inspiring.”

And the students are also inspired to keep giving back.

“Having this experience, I’m definitely going to partake in a lot of philanthropic ventures in my life,” Chelsea says. “It’s such a sense of gratitude and fulfillment like to be able to help out.”

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