Youth4health: Delicious & Healthy Online Connections

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Author: Joshna

Posted: April 18, 2011

Categories: Food in the News / Good Food Ideas for Kids / News from Sustain Ontario

In the spirit of our life with technology, my second post is not about a physical place where young people interact with good food, but an online network where youth are engaged with each other around food.  Youth4health is a project by the Youth Voices Research Group, an organization trying to “enable young people to have a greater voice and opportunities to lead social change efforts for a healthier society.”  The goals of Youth4health are to “empower newcomer youth to be health navigators” for themselves, their families and their communities.  For this first effort, there are projects in Toronto, in Wellington County and in Kitchener Waterloo, each with 2-3 local partner organizations, like Green Thumbs Growing Kids and the YWCA of Kitchener/Waterloo.  This project focuses on three important aspects of young adult life: food, mind and wellness.  The idea behind this is that in many newcomer communities, the youth are often a bridge between homes and public life, and have the opportunity to be a resource for their families around health and wellness.  What’s more, Youth4health creates space for newcomer youth to connect with other young people with the same life experience.

When you start reading through some of the blog posts on the website, you’ll find articles about backyard gardening, a review of a local restaurant, recipes and even a piece about how happy meals aren’t really all that happy.  There is even a piece about using shiso (Japanese basil) to make onigiri (rice wrapped with seaweed).  Abie Q, the intrepid taster took home surplus shiso from the community garden to try out this recipe.  In addition to this, though, are more focused and personal blog posts about handling stigma and learning to create and respect boundaries, which are honest and quite thoughtful.  I have always believed in the power of food to open people up to experience and conversation that they might not be open to, and this project proves this true, even on the worldwide web.  The Kids Help Phone number is visible on every page of the site, and between that and the links to the twitter feed, the young people using this site have a number of options for connections to support from other people and communities.

Although I was quite young when my family moved to Canada, I know what it’s like to be different in a new place.  The transition from a child to an adult is tricky regardless of where you live.  Immigration and the task of re-establishing yourselves in a new place adds another layer of complexity to this experience.

I spoke with Charlotte Lombardo, the manager of the project for Youth Voices, told me that they have recently conducted surveys and interviews with Youth4health participants to measure outcomes and gauge the success of this program.  These findings are about to be released publicly, and she was thrilled to tell me that overall, feedback is very positive, and the goals of connecting newcomer youth to resources for holistic, healthy living are being achieved.  As is evident on the website, the project works, and there are young new Canadians developing healthy relationships with food that will surely give them some important tools for a smooth transition to their adult lives.  Using the internet in this way is smart and innovative, and shows a real understanding of the new kinds of communities that technology offers us, and that eating well equals living well.  Even in an online context, you can never underestimate the power of food and community to support and enhance people’s lives.  What’s more, you can also never underestimate the power of young people to be competent and engaged agents of change.