Imagine a program with specialized support services and cultural teachings for Stó:lō youth, guiding them as they navigate the rough waters of the teenage years through graduation, and beyond.
That’s exactly what’s been happening with Mémiyelhtel, the youth mentorship program from Stó:lō Service Agency that began in 2012.
More than 100 youth from 30 Indigenous communities across Stó:lō territory (S’ólh Téméxw) have gone through the program.
The program name Mémiyelhtel means “helping others be well,” in Halq’eméylem.
Mémiyelhtel has been working closely with youth “who are facing significant challenges” for a decade, said Youth Services director Breanna Miller, the lead on the project for Stó:lō Service Agency.
With the support and involvement from community partners like Mémiyelhtel, Indigenous graduation rates in the Chilliwack School District have soared from 55 per cent to 79 per cent, since 2012.
They may not be wholly responsible for that impressive hike in grad rates, but the program’s success is definitely a part of it, Miller said.
Squiala Chief David Jimmie has been a strong program supporter and advocate. He’s also keenly aware of the challenges Mémiyelhtel and the youth have faced over the years.
Participants aged 12 to 19 can get help and individualized attention from “intensive support” and resource workers, as well as respected elders.
“Indigenous youth face unique struggles given the historical trauma that still exists today, and this program is an opportunity for those youth to learn more about who they are through cultural teachings, while receiving proper supports to gain confidence in working through life challenges,” Jimmie said.
Many of the participants are first and second generation descendants of residential school survivors.
Part of what the youth get is culturally relevant approaches to support their mental health, and land-based healing.
Jimmie said he’s happy to see solid community support from business leaders like Baker Newby, with their one-for-one funding match commitment up to $50,000 so the program can serve more youth and work towards the goal of turning no one away.
Jimmie also had high praise for the “commitment and dedication” shown by staff and elders in steering the unique program, especially “the drive and vision” from Miller.
But a wait list means they can only serve about half of those being referred, Miller said.
“We’re often asked about the needs of the program and how people can support the work we are doing,” said Miller. “The answer is, there are many ways. We need additional funds to meet the demand.”
A funding drive is therefore a critical part of the launch of a new website. They’re hoping to gain significant support from the community and business sector. The just launched website tells the story of Mémiyelhtel, and makes it easy for those who want to sponsor or donate.
Motivation to complete the website came from the ongoing interest and inquiries about the program, the desire to share stories about the mentorships and the need to highlight the demands and gaps in service.
See more at memiyelhtel.ca or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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