The Thunder Bay Indigenous Friendship Centre supports Indigenous youth and families from birth to adulthood and one of their many programs making a difference for Thunder Bay youth is the AWKE:GO program.
An Indigenously-based and culturally appropriate program for children ages seven to 12. AWKE:GO allows children in this age group to not be packed in with teenagers or feel like young children, the separation allows for appropriate growth and expression.
Before AWKE:GO came to fruition, the Thunder Bay Indigenous Friendship Centre led a group called Little Beavers but when funding had stopped it led to a cry out from the community for a more centralized and individualized program for youth in the Thunder Bay community.
“It’s about transitioning and it’s crucial to have services that add extra features just for that age group,” says Rhonda Turbide, Child and Family Services Program manager, who oversees the child and family services.
“Our focus is the family and the youth and it’s about having that growth with the family.”
Opportunities for youth
AWKE:GO holds a maximum of 20 youth who then age out into additional TBIFC programs.
While in the program youth are guided through different support services that provide group activities and one-on-one services, social and educational support, healthy eating, wellbeing, and addressing violence and justice intervention.
In previous years, outside of COVID, March break was a time where youth participated in a March camp with overnight camping that brought the components of on-land activities.
During COVID, they’re concentrating on wellness and food security with activities such as a virtual cooking class, dance classes, scavenger hunts and red willow teachings.
“The wonderful thing about our programs is it’s not just about helping the client it’s about helping the family,” says Turbide.
These kinds of activities allow the entire family to participate.
From AWKE:GO to other programs
When youth participate in the AWKE:GO program they transition to more TBIFC programs focused on wellbeing and success.
“We’ve had family members start at zero and are now volunteers in our life-long care program so it really just continues and is a wonderful atmosphere.”
Each program has a different mandate and a different goal that allows TBIFC to cater to their clients, and families, needs and during COVID-19 those needs have been strongly based in food security and wellbeing allowing for families to receive the resources they need because, as Turbide says, it doesn’t just stop at one age group but continues to the whole family – a wraparound approach.