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No limits for young people with CP in Canada

In Canada, an innovative program is building pride, acceptance and belonging in a group of young people with CP. Guest blogger, Ashley Moliere from the Cerebral Palsy Association of British Columbia, explains.

The program

The Youth Without Limits support group addresses the intersection between disabilities and mental health and is designed for youth and young adults aged 13 and up. The group is facilitated by youth with disabilities specifically for their peers with disabilities, recognizing that acceptance and understanding are key to providing adequate knowledge and support from one person living with a disability to another.

“Throughout our life time we have felt that there has always been a gap between the able-bodied community and the disabled community with regards to understanding, interpretation, and communication.

Our goal is to bring the disabled community closer together and create a sense of acceptance, comfort, belonging, and pride in ourselves and our disability as community.” – Program developers

How it works

Youth Without Limits is a free inclusive program that is open and accessible. To increase accessibility, we provide refreshments and sign language interpretation as needed. Sessions take the form of an open-ended discussion around a topic, often with a presentation to engage participants or a guest speaker. The goal is to provide a safe and welcoming space for people with disabilities to socialize, learn from, and support one another. We want youth with disabilities experiencing stress, anxiety or depression to know that they are equals in society.

Some of the topics covered during the Youth Group sessions include: Coping with Anxiety and Depression, Making Dreams Come True, Sex and Dating, Self-Esteem, Meditation, Recreation and Accessibility and Diet and Nutrition to Reduce Stress and Promote Better Health. One other topic that grabbed the attention of youth group participants was How to Quit Smoking and Tobacco Reduction via mindful meditation. It was so popular, we hosted the session twice with the help of Vancouver Coastal Health. We ask our participants for feedback at the end of each session via a survey and adjust the program accordingly.

All of this information was consolidated into a “best practices” report, to support the creation of similar peer support groups. The program coordinators also created a toolkit on how to run a peer support group, including power dynamics of a group, accessibility, facilitation and how to engage participants, tips for program planning and logistics.

Working together

The Cerebral Palsy Association of BC worked with many businesses and organizations including Vancouver Coastal Health, Lawson Foundation 5G Fund, Bridge Street United Church Foundation, Neil Squire Society, Coast Capital Savings, Hamber Foundation, Law Foundation of British Columbia, and Telus Vancouver to fund the youth group. We received municipal funding from the City of North Vancouver through their Child and Youth Initiatives program. We have also received directed donations through special events including our Life Without Limits Gala and annual Scotiabank Charity Challenge, and individual and corporate donations.

CPABC was also supported by the Burnaby Association for Community Inclusion, YWCA and PeerNetBC through in-kind venue rental. PeerNetBC also provided facilitation, resource materials and training services. Pacific DAWN kindly provided advice and consultation on running a support group. Anxiety BC provided a program presenter and support for presentations around anxiety and mindfulness.

There are also many volunteers that work tirelessly behind the scenes. Without their help to promote and facilitate the group, we would not be able to be so successful.

Key achievements

There have been many positive outcomes from the creation of Youth Without Limits. The group has up to 30 participants each month and at least 2 volunteers along with our Program Director that help facilitate each session. So far, there have been over 20 workshop topics successfully disseminated and discussed. Many participants are now suggesting topics and presenters for us to research.

Our participants have developed various skills such as leadership, communication and teamwork. It also reaffirms that helping others help the self. Participants report improved communications and self-advocacy skills, as well as increased access to services and supports. Through sharing their stories and listening to others, they are gaining knowledge and experience. This also helps relieve stress and anxiety as the participants realize that they are not alone in their experience.

According to our final report after the first year of programming, half the respondents reported significant improvement in all areas and half the respondents reported some improvement in all areas. These areas include: anxiety, depression, isolation, frustration, socialization, self-esteem and self-love.

Feedback from participants speaks for itself:

“This support group makes my long bus rides to Downtown Vancouver worthwhile. All my friends are in this group. I am happy to be a member as long as I can.”

“Overall found all sessions to be of value.”

“The support group has allowed me to meet new people and share my experiences with my friends. I also like that it’s confidential and that it’s a safe place.”

“I am grateful for this group and really appreciate the volunteers and staff who make it possible.”

Where to from here?

We plan to continue the program every month with meetings and workshops. We continue to source funding for special events and series on important topics affecting young people with disabilities and mental health.

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Date: 9 Sep 2018

Category: Quality of Life

Author: Robyn Cummins