How Life Skills Coordinators Help Youth Build Confidence on their Path to their Brighter Future

On any given day at Covenant House, Lillian Gong and Alejandro Castillo-Cisneros can be found surrounded by an engaged group of youth sharing stories and filling the hallways with their laughter.

Sometimes they’re in the kitchen, figuring out a recipe. Other days they’re in the drop-in centre doing a budgeting workshop, or on the streets of Toronto leading a group outing. Every Tuesday evening, they’re in the gym taking part in a friendly game of volleyball – their encouragement echoing throughout the house.

It’s through these activities that Lillian and Alejandro help get youth out of their shells and stand in their confidence – both huge wins for young people experiencing homelessness and trafficking.

As Covenant House Toronto’s dedicated life skills coordinators, the pair work with youth to help them build skills that will help them navigate life once they move out of the shelter and are on their own.

“Life skills are any specific skill set that you need to be able to leave the shelter system and stay out of the shelter system,” Alejandro says. “These skills help the youth not just survive but really thrive and help build a successful, beautiful future ahead.”

Because life skills activities aren’t mandatory, youth are usually excited to take part, Alejandro says. This goes a long way in building trust and rapport with the youth, who may not open up to other workers in their lives in the same way. They also focus on following the youths’ interests so they’re motivated to take part.

The outings are especially welcome, Lillian says. This spring, they organized a trip for youth to see the cherry blossoms in High Park and another to watch the solar eclipse together. Alejandro recently provided an opportunity for youth to check out a ballet recital because many of the youth were dancers themselves. Most of the events are free or low cost and provide youth with an opportunity to help them learn the city’s transit system.

“They definitely gain social skills by coming out on the outings,” Lillian says. “They talk together and realize they share interests, so the bonding happens.”

In many ways, life skills are “the glue” that can help hold together the young people’s belief in themselves that they can stand on their own two feet.

Both love seeing the youth they’re working with return time and again to the planned activities. It’s now been a year since they started hosting weekly volleyball and some of the youth who had never played before are now refereeing the games, making sure everyone is following the rules.

“A lot of people are coming out of their shells – people who would normally not speak to anybody on a day-to-day basis, they’re now interacting in groups, they’re forming friendships,” Alejandro says. “Not to toot our own horn, but I feel like a lot of that is contributed to the programs we do.”