Social isolation is difficult to face at any age. It’s particularly damaging for teenagers. Language, cultural and socio-economic barriers limit access to extracurricular activities, community affiliation, meeting new people and making friends. The teen years for some can be unbearable.
“In children, it [loneliness] leads to all kinds of problems. Failure to be socially connected to peers is the real reason behind most school dropouts,” wrote Hara Estroff Marano in the Psychology Today article, The Dangers of Loneliness.
Feeling connected is a lot like food. We need it to survive.
Empowering isolated teens is a recent issue that the Miriam & Larry Robbins 1 Open Door is tackling through its unique partnership model of shared Jewish services. JVS Toronto leads this project with its partner agencies – JIAS Toronto, Circle of Care and Jewish Family & Child – to bring career expertise to help newcomer youth plan a future in Canada. The result is a program called Youth – Our Future Initiative (YOFI) that improves the social, educational and vocational needs of isolated teens living in York Region, the fastest growing Jewish community in the Greater Toronto Area.
Privately funded, YOFI reaches out to Jewish youth ages 13 to 19 years and welcomes them in to make meaningful connections within the Jewish and greater community. Since many of the participants are recent immigrants and newcomers, YOFI provides exposure to Canadian life, social interactions with each other, intergenerational activities with Holocaust survivors, volunteering and assistance to determine future career options.
Activities are multifaceted to build relationships and remove the effects of isolation for the young participants. Career exploration workshops give youth a unique opportunity to realize their strengths, values and interests in relation to potential careers. Mentoring events introduce participants to young professionals in the UJA Genesis initiative. Embracing the winter season is instilled through private ski lessons and outdoor activities. Seminars bring Holocaust survivors together with the teens to understand the challenges that come with age. Engaging discussions about Jewish identity take place from multigenerational perspectives. An abundance of social occasions bring young and old together for celebrations, food and fun events.
With 87% of participants to date between the ages of 13 and 16 years, YOFI is playing an important part bridging the years between childhood and adulthood with positive role models, unique experiences, resources for education and career options, and instilling a connection to the Jewish community that will last a lifetime. And it all started with one open door.