The following is a guest post written by Sumaira Khan, who is a Peer Youth Worker at Nexus Youth Services in Mississauga. It has been adapted from a presentation she gave at the Children’s Mental Health Ontario conference in November 2013. This post first appeared on Nexus’s blog on January 15, 2014 and is cross-posted here with permission.
My name is Sumaira Khan and I’m a Peer Youth Worker at Nexus Youth Services. I’m a first year student at York University and am currently majoring in Sociology. I’ll be 18 in a couple of days and I believe there’s a bright future for every youth.
Before becoming a Peer Youth Worker and officially a staff member at Nexus, I was a volunteer. My experience as a volunteer compared to my experience now as a staff member is quite different, but both have been fun and interesting roles.
As a Peer Youth Worker at Nexus, I have learned a lot not only about myself but also about Nexus and the many things they stand for. My role at Nexus is to engage with youth and promote a friendly environment where anyone from the age of 14-24 is invited to build healthy and supportive relationships; recently, I also began to assist with the social media aspect of Nexus. By engaging with various youth I have learned that a lot of them feel that many times their voices are never heard because they’re underage, therefore no one really bothers to care for them, but I also noticed that they feel differently with Nexus. Nexus makes youth feel more involved and appreciated and most importantly they feel that they have a role here and are given more responsibility and taken seriously.
I first witnessed this at the first Nexus event I was ever been involved in, which was the event to celebrate Black History Month. On this occasion I saw many youth participate and be supported by their peers in the several talents they shared, some for the first time. At that moment I thought to myself. “Wow, Nexus is pretty cool for getting all these youth together and having them share their personal stories, talents, and time. They must be doing something right.” And indeed they were.
But that was just a preview of what Nexus youth were capable of. The next event that everyone seemed to be looking forward to was the launch of Nexus’s new brand and social media channels in March. For this event, the youth decided to make a video to show how Nexus supported them and display how much they evolved to being in a more stable and happier zone, and that’s what I thought was one of Nexus’s most successful events because youth were so involved with a lot of changes. The process of rebranding Nexus was for the youth, with the youth and they knew how appreciated they were, which made the atmosphere even better. At both the Black History Month and Launch events I assisted by doing outreach in the library, preparing posters and helping to facilitate activities.
Being engaged changed me; I have a more open mind and I’m able to connect with different individuals of my age who I thought I would have nothing in common with. I’m also learning to face the fear of speaking to an audience and taking pride in being a youth, because we have so much to learn as well as to teach.
Although being engaged provided me with many positive attributes I also encountered a few struggles such as trying to find a line with youth of being a friend but also a staff member. I felt in the beginning that it was a little hard to find a perfect balance. Also sometimes when there is an issue that I have to deal with, I’m a youth and so are they, so trying to be their friend but also prohibiting them to do something in the Youth Centre is a little challenging at times but nonetheless a learning experience.
As an individual I have grown and as a youth I have blossomed to be wiser in certain matters and to identify myself much better. I feel that Nexus supports a diverse group of youth mentally and emotionally, always providing comfort to any youth, including myself. This makes me proud to be a Peer Youth Worker and a part of the Nexus family.