Photo By: Devin Avery from Unsplash

Civiconnect, a local organization founded by Brock alumnae, has published a report that examines the impact that COVID-19 has had on the region’s youth.

Civiconnect, situated in the Town of Lincoln, is a non-profit organization that is dedicated to equipping youth in the Niagara Region with the skills and resources to be healthy, productive members of their communities. The organization offers youth skills development training using a multitude of delivery methods designed to foster growth and success.

We do this in a number of ways, including conducting research and incorporating the findings into our programming, establishing the Youth Skills Studio’s work-integrated learning environment, engaging with youth through our Youth Advisory Committee, facilitating workshops in the community, as well as working with regional stakeholders to promote the interests of youth and advance economic development,” said Kailene Jackson, Executive Director of Civiconnect.

Civiconnect’s biggest initiative, the Youth Skills Studio, launched in early 2021 as a collaboration between the Town of Lincoln, Ontario’s Ministry of Labour, Training, and Skills Development, and the Information and Communications Technology Council of Canada. The studio is a paid, cohort-based, work-integrated and experiential learning programme in which youth engage in real-world technological projects for the business community while acquiring the skills needed to excel in the workforce.

Additionally, in 2020 Civiconnect established the region’s first Youth Advisory Committee (YAC) to respond to the needs of youth in the Niagara Region. This committee gives youth a forum to discuss issues that are important to them and to help define programming for the Youth Skills Studio. The committee brings together a diverse set of youth with unique interests and passions to work together to address the challenges that they all face. 

Recently, Civiconnect’s YAC released a report detailing the impact of COVID-19 on youth in Niagara. This report, the first of its kind, was conducted with the oversight and support of the Civiconnect leadership team, Brock professors and other stakeholders. 

According to Jackson, the idea for the report was sparked when the committee noticed a lack of youth-specific data and a lack of Niagara-specific data while researching the impacts of the pandemic on youth.

“We never intended to do this survey research; instead, the committee’s starting point was to compile all of the existing research on youth and COVID-19 into one report and share it with the community,” said Jackson. “We soon realized that this data on youth and COVID-19, especially youth in Niagara, just does not exist – and if it does exist, it is not open source. So, we did it ourselves.” 

The YAC conducted a qualitative and quantitative survey, which got over 300 answers from youth in Niagara and across Ontario. The paper includes the YAC’s original study results and compares them to previously collected data. This contrast between pre-pandemic data and statistics from the height of the pandemic is intended to demonstrate how COVID-19 has changed the lives of the region’s youth.

“The report is meant to promote youth community engagement and further research in order to tackle some of these issues. Perhaps youth will be inspired to advocate for change or participate in future research when they read how drastically the pandemic has altered [other] youth’s lives,” said Alexis Zorad, Programming Development Coordinator at Civiconnect. “Knowledge is power and by spreading awareness about these issues, we are using our report to magnify youth’s voice.”

Some of the key findings from the report include:

  • 77 per cent of respondents identified as experiencing mental health challenges with only 34 per cent of respondents actually accessing some form of mental health support.
  • 40 per cent of respondents said the pandemic had a “significant” impact on their mental health, while 30 per cent indicating that it had a “moderate” impact on their mental health.
  • 81 per cent of respondents experienced challenges with online learning as a result of the pandemic, with social isolation and maintaining proper mental health listed as the top challenges to online learners.

This data is expected to have a major impact on local youth empowerment organizations like Civiconnect so they can better direct their efforts and tailor programming to correctly address current youth issues. 

“Not only was the report timely and necessary in terms of its findings, which added greatly to understanding the experience of being a young person during the pandemic, it also was necessary because it was for youth and by youth,” said Jackson. “For a youth living in Niagara, reading the report will help them connect their individual experiences to larger social, economic, and political issues that are contextualized with data and narratives.”

Civiconnect’s Youth Advisory Committee is currently accepting new members. Interested youth between 15 to 29 years of age are encouraged to state their interest via email to [email protected]. Participation on the committee presents an opportunity for local youth to engage in similar research projects on youth issues in the future. 

The entirety of the report and its findings can be found on the Civiconnect website. Interested youth are encouraged to engage with the organization on Instagram or LinkedIn and can direct any questions via email to [email protected].