Starting From Strengths

“I wish I’d had that when I was younger!” is my reaction to hearing about the It’s Great to Be Me program that was a pilot project of Reachout Youth Counselling and Family Services this past year. No doubt that sentiment would be echoed by any adult whose education and career path has taken a few dips and curves.

The brainchild of Ontological Life Coach Karin Leggatt, who has volunteered her time and talents to develop the pilot for the agency, It’s Great to Be Me has a focus on individual strengths. Leggatt’s approach is backed up by research. In 1952, psychologist Dr. Donald Clifton asked, “what would happen if we actually studied what was right with people?”

The program uses the Strengths Finder Assessment tool and a youth’s own insights to determine their top five individual talents. Unlike many other programs, It’s Great to Be Me takes the assessment a few steps further, showing the youth how to integrate those strengths into their daily activities and future choices – things like career, school, volunteering, and relationships.

“We all need to be reminded of the things we do well,” says Leggatt. “This program is coming from a positive place. It shows them how amazing they already are, not how they are deficient. These youth are seeing themselves in a way that they haven’t before.”

Feedback from clients and parents affirms that the program has tapped into a community need, and the result is increased self-awareness that can lead to greater success in life. Leggatt shares the example of one young woman who just completed the five week program: “She knows that who she is right now is enough to go out into the world. Her strengths will support her in areas where she’s not that comfortable or confident yet.”

Executive Director Sharon Marshall wants to expand this service so more youth can benefit from one-on-one strengths coaching. “Youth are making big career and educational choices, but they often don’t know who they are yet,” she says. With so many teachers, parents and friends weighing in on those decisions, Marshall emphasizes the value of a caring, qualified and objective person equipping youth at the outset of that important journey.

Marshall points to some of the biggest priorities that our community has around young people, things like school dropout rates, youth unemployment, access to higher education, the cost of living and loss of young professionals in the valley, and the reality that many youth are overwhelmed by their world and unsure about their choices.

United Way has provided funding so that the program can be made accessible to more youth this year, and that small investment, combined with grants from other funders, will produce substantial returns in quality of life for youth who participate. Early results from the pilot phase, as well as research, indicate that this program can help youth to become more rooted in community, values, family, skills and strengths. It is expected that up to 50 youth will take part this year.

Change is starting here, because caring people are identifying and meeting the needs of youth. A future phase of the program could involve employers offering short term, part time work opportunities for youth who have completed the program and identified a future career goal related to a specific field. More information on Reachout Youth Counselling and Family Services is available at http://reachoutyouthcounselling.com/.

Reachout Youth Counselling and Family Services is a United Way Community Partner Agency. To find out how you can be part of change, visit www.unitedwaycso.com.

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About the Author

The mission of United Way is to improve lives and build community by engaging individuals and mobilizing collective action.

We call this our Community Impact Mission. Community impact is about achieving meaningful, long-term improvements to the quality of life in Canadian communities, by addressing not just the symptoms of problems but also getting at the root causes. It’s about making fundamental changes to community conditions.

United Way is achieving this mission by moving people from poverty to possibility, promoting healthy people and strong communities, and supporting all that kids can be.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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