Growing up, I always wanted to get involved with my community and find a way to give back. From the environment to education to recreational programming, I wanted to find a way to participate and help in the planning and implementation of programs and services which affect all aspects of the lives of youth. So, when I found out about the Peel Children and Youth Initiative (PCYI), I jumped at the opportunity. PCYI is a unique organization that not only empowers youth to be able to voice our opinions and concerns, but also emphasizes collaboration between decision-makers in order to help youth thrive in Peel. Major youth service providers, such as the municipalities and school boards, have all come together and are committed to doing their best to improve the lives of children and youth in Peel, and most importantly: they’ve integrated youth engagement throughout the entire process!

Oftentimes it is easy to forget to survey thoroughly and find out what youth actually want and need. However, with PCYI, youth feedback is incorporated throughout each step of its activities. During the initial development stages of PCYI, I participated in the Youth Engagement Committee, which helped to outline the ways in which youth would be involved in the organization. From this committee came the creation of the Youth Advisory Council, which consists of 12 youth of diverse backgrounds who represent the youth in Peel and inform and support the development of PCYI’s research, policy and strategic initiatives. In addition, three youth members also sit on the Board of Directors in order to ensure that the youth voice is always heard during the decision-making process.

As PCYI took off and began its operations, the Youth Engagement Committee was dissolved and I transitioned over to my new role as a member of the Youth Advisory Council and one of the three youth representatives on the Board of Directors. During my two years as a member, I am proud to say that PCYI involves youth in a meaningful way and that our opinions have and continue to be taken into account. One example is the Youth Advisory Council’s involvement in PCYI’s Recreation and After-School Strategy, which looks at the ways in which more youth can be engaged in after-school activities that encourage and facilitate youth well-being. During the initial surveying and scan of the region’s youth about recreation and after-school activities, Youth Advisory Council members facilitated focus groups for youth from different organizations, as well as administering surveys within Peel high schools. The focus group content and survey questions were also developed with input by the Council. Then, after the data was compiled and a strategy was synthesized, the Council also had a chance to provide input on the draft of the strategy. Personally, I found the experience rewarding. It was a great way to learn how to run focus groups and engage youth in our work.

After more than two years of being involved with PCYI, I have seen the organization grow immensely. I am proud to say that despite the progress, PCYI has remained faithful to its founding value of youth engagement and has integrated youth feedback throughout its activities. As we move forward to a new school year, I am excited to see what PCYI will accomplish and I am sure that in the future, children and youth in Peel will thrive.

Darius Chia is a third-year student attending the University of Toronto Mississauga campus (UTM) majoring in Mathematics and Physics. He volunteers with the research group at UTM that focuses on biophysics, specifically, at the single molecular level. In addition to academics, Darius is also heavily involved in social causes. He has been involved with the Peel Environmental Youth Alliance, and the Environmental Advisory Committee of Mississauga. Darius is a founding member of PCYI’s Youth Advisory Council and member of the Board of Directors.

To learn more about PCYI’s Youth Advisory Council or to get involved, click here

Authentic engagement through the lens of youth
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