Toronto Star Classroom Connection

Beyond Labels: How The Dam Fosters Resilience and Growth in Youth

Two hundred and fifty hot dogs gone in 60 minutes! At The Dam, food is central to building relationships with youth as well as offering help without them having to ask for it. Nearly 600 of our 752 programs last year included providing food to youth and their families. Offering food to any child who visits The Dam meets a real need for the 25 per cent of youth who report that they have experienced food insecurity and one-third who say they’ve had to eat less healthy options due to financial constraints, without labelling these youth as being “in need.” Charlie, a former Dam youth, shared with his mentor that while he was in high school, he often only had food to eat when he visited The Dam. He chose to keep this reality private during his four years of schooling and is just one of many youths facing the same predicament.

Over the past 28 years, we have heard from youth that “in need” is perceived as a negative label and can even make them feel ostracized. The same is true for labels like “disadvantaged,” “high-risk,” and even “marginalized,” and this may be a big reason why youth don’t often ask for help in these ways. Instead, youth in circumstances like Charlie's suffer in silence and persevere despite challenging realities. For some, this leads to dire consequences, such as addiction, poor mental health, trauma, and even criminal charges.

The resistance to ask for help transcends the physical need for food. Teens don’t want to report abuse at home until they are in crisis, increasing their risk for homelessness. Fourteen per cent of youth in our programs report that they experienced physical abuse, and the trauma of abuse can last well beyond childhood, impacting health, mental health, and behaviours. Another youth, Sally, had put one of the female Dam staff as her emergency contact with her doctor because she didn’t have another adult in her life to help her during a medical scare.

Waiting for youth to ask for help is too late, so we don’t! By providing ongoing support and resources to our youth population, The Dam is able to assist youth without singling out those who face more significant needs. In doing so, we create a more even playing field for youth to feel like they have a chance to succeed and flourish.

A 2017 evidence review of public health interventions found a 5.6-fold increase in cost savings to the health system and the wider economy when investments were made in social development and prevention initiatives such as programs like The Dam.*

This December, be a hero and donate. Every dollar you give is multiplied by five in cost savings on the system. Every $100 you give allows young people to access the help they need to access food, jobs, and housing—changing their lives in the process.

Learn more and donate at *(PEEL’S COMMUNITY SAFETY AND WELL-BEING PLAN 2020-2024)





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