Cowichan youth take hamper lead

A group of young people are planning to spend the run-up to Christmas helping others.

A group of young people are planning to spend the run-up to Christmas helping others.

A Holiday Hampers program is being organized the Community Options Society and its Leadership & Resiliency Program.

Leadership & Resilience includes more than 40 young people, including many at-risk youth, from four schools in Lake Cowichan, Chemainus and Duncan, and they will be organizing and preparing hampers for 20 vulnerable families across the Valley.

These volunteers will be collaborating with local businesses to collect food items for a holiday meal and gift items to wrap and include for each hamper. “The hope is that young people who are struggling with anxiety, that are escaping addiction, that are being bullied at school, that are coping with mental health challenges will have a chance to feel special, and be seen and nurtured over the holidays,” said Scarlet Jaxen, team leader last week.

“The Community Options Society services over 300 youth and their families every year. Most of the youth we service come from homes of poverty, substance abuse, violence and social isolation. These families are experiencing extremely high levels of stress and many of them will not have the financial means to provide gifts to their youth over the holidays,” she said.

The teens involved are with Jaxen’s program for a full year.

“They just started in September. For them this is about how they can learn about giving back to the community,” she said.

Using some details about the people they’re helping, the teens then figure out what would be the best gifts for the family members. “They’re going out and deciding what this or that person might like; it’s like: this is a 15-year-old girl, what do you think she might like? We’re having those conversations. Then at the end, they are compiling everything together and our staff will be delivering them.

“They are already working on it. We meet with the kids once a week in school for an hour and a half and then we also meet with them two times outside of school for adventures and for service so they’re working on it right now. On Dec 5-8 they’ll be completing the hampers and then our staff will be giving them out on the week of Dec. 19 to 23,” she said.

Learning about service is helping the teens, said Jaxen, who said the group has really impressed their team leaders.

“They already created for youth that are couch surfing or don’t have a stable home these homeless survival kits with basic hygiene products and warm tuques and hats and things like that. And we invited them to write a note or something of that nature and what they came up with was beautiful. These are kids that are between 12-16 years old. They wrote things like: ‘You might feel that you don’t deserve love and affection but I believe in you; I know you can do this’, or ‘Always believe in yourself’ or ‘Put your hand on your heart. Do you feel that? That’s a reason to live, to keep trying.’ They were very inspiring letters and they put them anonymously into each of the survival packages. They really take these projects on. They find meaning and value in this. They want to be involved in all of the pieces of working on these hampers,” Jaxen said.

Going out into the community to talk up the project has seen some astonishing results.

“The Cowichan Capitals gave tickets for 20 families to go to a Capitals game and businesses have also helped out. It’s been really inspiring to see the kids take it on so wholeheartedly,” she said.