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Local outreach efforts targeted towards isolated youth and families

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On the road for youth: Youth Connect workers met in Prescott on April 15 to distribute over 80 self-care baskets to local youth and families who are currently in social isolation. Working out of the trunks of their cars are: l-r: Support Worker Ezzy Water

While social activities are in marked decrease, the number of teens and young adults who are isolated and scared is increasing. Recent school closures and the cancellation of social activities present a unique and possibly dangerous situation for many of them.

"Everyone's mental health is being affected right now, but young people are especially at risk with all the changes taking place around them," says Connect Youth Program Manager Victoria Robertson. "It may be harder for them to reach out than ever before, leaving them feeling truly isolated and alone."

The same concern has been expressed by organizations working with battered and abused adults. With every member of the family possibly at home full-time right now, it is much harder to find ways to access help.

To combat these potentially hazardous situations, Robertson is hard at work. She and support workers with the organization have spent their time in recent weeks preparing self-care packages and food baskets for distribution throughout the area.

They met in the parking lot of South Grenville District High School last Wednesday afternoon to distribute the care baskets, which were in large reusable bags donated by local grocery stores. Delivery routes were mapped out and the bags were loaded while gloved and masked workers adhered to social distancing rules.

The self-care packages contained essential needs for children, teens and young adults such as hygiene products, books, games, and snacks. Eighty-nine of these were delivered throughout Leeds and Grenville. The food baskets went to 50 families in the same geographical range.

Contents were both donated and purchased, using $4,750 of the Global Relief Fund which flowed through the United Way of Leeds and Grenville. Connect Youth had also received smaller cash grants from the Town of Prescott, Augusta Township and Edwardsburgh Cardinal Township. Robertson has maxed out that funding and is hoping more comes down the pipe.

Usually Connect Youth stays operational through a combination of government funding and annual grants through local townships and businesses. Sometimes fundraisers are held to augment their services.

"All the baskets contain information pamphlets on where families and youth can call for help right now," says Robertson. "We are hoping we can access more grants to keep this up because isolation is really a difficult thing to cope with, both physically and mentally."

During more normal times, a youth in need or with a home-safety concern can access Connect Youth by self-referral, or through a school guidance department or social service worker. Staff there can put them in touch with social service supports, police or other forms of help. As well, the program offers a drop in and meetings to keep young people in touch with others for peer support.

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