18 Years of Innovation

By Rohith Bhargavan, Communications Assistant

YouthCO is coming of age this year, celebrating 18 years of youth-driven community change in British Columbia. We pass this milestone at an exciting time in our history: with a new structure and vision, YouthCO is refocusing its efforts to reach out to gay youth, aboriginal youth and youth under 20.

Since 1993, YouthCO staff and volunteers have built a wide range of support and advocacy programs to engage youth living with HIV. Our drop-in provides a safe space for young people three afternoons a week, while our personal and group support programs offer a space for youth to talk through everyday challenges. The WISER project for positive women (currently awaiting new funding) provides peer support and helps develop skills and leadership for young women to pursue education and employment.  The next few months will see the continued expansion of these programs as we seek to bring our services to more young people and communities.

Community building through health promotion reflects YouthCO’s mission to eliminate the stigma associated with HIV by reaching out to new communities through events, outreach and dialogue with leaders. We encourage young people from diverse groups to work together in their communities to promote discussion about HIV, getting tested and safer sex practices to prevent transmission.  As we become more comfortable talking about HIV to our partners and in public, more youth will get facts, get tested and get treatment without fear of judgement or discrimination.

To this end, YouthCO will spend the next several years expanding workshops throughout British Columbia. We have already delivered workshops on HIV and Hep C in many parts of the province, including Telegraph Creek, Haida Gwaii and Prince George through our Aboriginal Youth Project. In the Vancouver area, we are enthusiastically developing new projects with other community organizations. With our partners at Oaktree Clinic at BC Children’s Hospital, we have developed a support group for positive youth under 20, allowing teens a space to talk about navigating high school and adolescence while living with HIV. We have also started a new street outreach program in the Downtown Eastside, with weekly distribution of food, clothing and harm reduction supplies in order to spread awareness of our services.

We have also spent time redeveloping existing relationships and programs. In the last two years, we have built a rapport with gay community organizations in Vancouver after identifying a gap in HIV education for gay youth. We are now developing a project at YouthCO that will provide direct education to 20% of gay and bisexual youth living in Vancouver over the next two years. We have also rejuvenated Brunch with Benefits (formerly AIDS Benedict). BWB is an annual fundraiser run in partnership with local restaurants, with a portion of the profits going to support YouthCO’s diverse projects. Among our partner restaurants this year are Market at Shangri-La Hotel, Hawksworth, Twisted Fork and Deacon’s Corner.

We at YouthCO are very proud of the generations of  young people in BC who have come together to make our services possible. We move forward with optimism and excitement in building a community movement throughout BC to reduce stigma and work together to improve our collective health.

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