One of the many ways that Covenant House Toronto works to provide support to youth at risk of, or experiencing, homelessness is through community outreach. Through this program, our team goes out into the community, including to other shelters and community services that share our commitment to supporting young people. They connect with youth directly and let them know about programs and resources available at Covenant House.
Just like every young person is unique, the team of staff that, supports community outreach, bring their own talents into their work.
With an arts based background, Sarah uses her experience offering drop-in art activities as a natural way to connect with young people at Covenant House and other partner shelters.
“I pick a two-hour time period and set up assorted materials for drawing, sketching, colouring, writing, and knitting, and I also offer a more directed visual arts activity for folks to try,” said Sarah. “There is no expectation for how long someone must participate, and I never know exactly how many people will take part.”
It was during one of these sessions that Sarah was reminded of the often-intangible benefits of arts-based outreach as a ‘way in’ to connecting on a more personal level. A young person had joined the art table for the third week in a row, and had been very quiet overall, focusing on his art-making. On this occasion, he was sitting next to a shelter staff person who was colouring a picture of a peacock. The youth noticed and said, ‘that’s the national bird of my country, India.’
This simple exchange allowed Sarah, in a non-intrusive way, to ask a little about his birthplace and tell him about how she worked with other newcomers to strengthen connections to their community in Toronto.
Sometimes, our work is more art than science, and that includes knowing how to help young people open up. Shortly after their session, the youth sent Sarah a message wanting to get together. We don’t always know the best way to make a connection with all youth-, but in this case, a picture of a peacock was the first step.