A lady in a hairnet, a man with an afro, a hipster, a tall man in a suit and sunglasses, a lumberjack and a couple of construction workers and a few other strange characters huddle together in the food court of a mall. What could this strangely mismatched crowd be convening together for? Well, the same thing they get together for every week; a group of teens who are as unique and different as this strangely dressed group of leaders, teens with backgrounds from all over the world who live in the communities near the Neighbourhood Hub.
It is a place where many come to and many go from to try and make a difference in their own lives and the lives of those in their communities. Tonight a group of oddly dressed young adults tries to make that difference by providing a place for these teens to go and have a fun experience, to connect with each other and with leaders who volunteer to invest in their lives.
Today an event has been designed where they must search the mall to find the leaders who have disguised themselves. The team that finds the most leaders will be declared the winners! After convening in the food court, the dozen or so leaders spread out to be hunted down by more than 40 youth. At first it’s a lot of fun, youth are both surprised and entertained by the shocking transformations of some of their favourite Connect leaders. But it’s also causing quite a stir; kids are excitedly running up to strangers, teams, eager to win the prize, are searching through stores, excitement is accompanied with a fair share of whoops and hollers… Perhaps we should have seen it coming. For it wasn’t long before mall security caught wind of our presence and informed us of a mall policy against such activates.
Reluctantly we went about and rounded everyone up delivering the disappointing news. The activity was abruptly stopped in mid-flight but the mission and reason for the event was achieved: leaders and teens had meaningful time connecting, laughing and building relationships. We bonded over the misfortune of our event being interrupted, we talked about the creativity of the various disguises and we considered other ways that this game might be played.
And that’s the important part; people discovering one another and knowing that they are valued and heard. Weekly we face the challenge of finding a place where 40 or 50 and sometimes more teens are able to be occupied. At the heart of our efforts is the belief that each youth will benefit from an opportunity to connect with others and with someone older that cares and takes the time to listen. If we achieve this then the event is a success.
That’s what Connect is all about; providing youth with a place to be, something fun to do, but most importantly people who they can connect and learn from. And when you’re connected with people who matter even being unceremoniously ejected from a mall can be a positive experience.
Note: Youth Connect is an Adventure4Change year-round teen initiative. 12 years ago we began with three boys; today we have more than 100 youth orbiting around us. While many of our youth clearly face significant life challenges we consistently find ourselves astonished by their genuineness, resilience and warmth. We welcome visitors. If you desire to know more about our program or have ideas that might enhance our efforts we would be glad to hear from you. Come and make a story with us.