GUELPH – Five nervous high school students, forming the Wellington OPP’s new youth advisory committee, bravely stood before the county’s Police Services Board (PSB) on March 8, presenting their first youth initiative.
“A group of like-minded individuals, us, came together to give a voice to the youth of our community,” said Hennessey Veit, standing in the cramped Guthrie Room at the Wellington County administration building in Guelph.
“We want to inform teens attending our local high schools about accessible mental health services through a postering campaign,” she added, before handing off to fellow youth member Thompson Anger.
“We have seen concerning trends that include that youth don’t feel healthy or confident in coming to school,” Anger said.
“Students are skipping class; and even in class they are not getting their work done to their best ability.”
Anecdotally, Anger said bullying and unkind behaviour are increasingly problematic.
“Ultimately, students aren’t managing well or feeling okay when they are at school,” he told board members, their attention focused on the group.
The advisory group was formed as Wellington OPP sought ways to connect with youth in schools following the ouster of school resource officers from Upper Grand District School Board classrooms in 2021.
Community safety and services sergeant Corrie Trewartha previously told the Advertiser that group meetings would have an educational component, and involve several youth-led initiatives.
“We really do want to be the resource; we don’t want to be the leaders,” Trewartha told the PSB during a presentation last summer about the new initiative.
Each member (there are six in total) applied to be a committee member and was selected based on their application and references, according to Wellington youth resiliency officer Beth Hickey.
“All six members had glowing reviews from their references and were passionate about making changes in their community,” Hickey wrote in an email.
“This group is a very quiet group to start, but once they get going on a topic, the ideas come.”
Despite the negatives highlighted by the group on Wednesday, positives were also noted.
Stability is gradually returning as routines are reestablished, and the group says awareness is growing and conversations are happening about mental health, equity and racism.
According the group, students are becoming more tuned into who to reach out to when help is needed, but it’s not enough — and that’s where the postering campaign comes in.
Current posters displayed in high schools are too cluttered with text, making them overwhelming and unapproachable.
The committee has dreamed up a redesign with calm colours, and a minimalist design using Canva software.
Hickey said all ideas have come from committee members.
“We have had four meetings so far, and in those meetings, I asked them to bring some issues that they are seeing, as youth in the community,” Hickey said.
The top concern was mental health, and the group agreed getting information when in crisis can be confusing.
“One [youth] member said that she ‘just wanted one number to call and then from there get support,’” Hickey said.
She added the group has yet to nail down what number to go with — either Kids Help Phone or Here 24/7.
Following the presentation, former PSB member David Anderson and Erin county councillor Jeff Duncan recommended the group reach out to youth hubs and community organizations across the county for funding and support.
Posters will need to be vetted by mental health leads at school boards, but Hickey said the goal is for the revamped posters to be displayed in area high schools, community centres and hubs.
Hickey was proud of the group’s effort and hopes more youth will want to join and bring more diversity and ideas.
“I would really like to see more from [northern Wellington] represented, and I hope that when this project gets going, it will garner more attention,” she said.