By Nick Bernard
In the basement of a former church in Haliburton is a vivid and modern office space consulted and, in part, designed by local youth. The space serves an important function in making sure Haliburton youth feel encouraged to grow and succeed.
It is the Haliburton Youth Hub, run by the Point in Time Centre, and it’s where the Lift program is helping youth aged 14 to 25 find meaningful employment within the community.
Operating since 2020, Lift is part of a cross-Canada pilot project by the Canadian Association for Mental Health (CAMH). Haliburton was chosen as a pilot hub because of its rural setting, as CAMH’s interest is in seeing how the program would best succeed across all parts of the country. Lift is also running pilot programs in places like B.C. and the Maritimes.
Ryan Martin is part of the Hub’s integrated team, acting as Lift’s Individual Placement and Support worker. He works with clients directly in addressing their needs, developing their skills, and helping them navigate the workplace once they are employed.
The Lift program utilizes an individual placement and support model that Martin describes as an evidence-based approach for supported employment.
“One of the principles of that is Zero Exclusion, which means that the only criterion for them to participate in the program is a desire to work,” Martin said. He provides most of the Hub’s employment services, and works one-on-one with each client to learn their individual needs and interests before matching them up with a suitable employer.
“Supports are … within the client’s preferences,” he said. Lift is unique in that individual plans continue for as long as a client needs them, “so there’s really no set limit to the supports we can provide. And, sort of just working with them and being creative, finding out what their needs are, and asking them what they could use help with as they’re going through their employment.”
Mary Sisson is the Haliburton Youth Hub’s manager.
“Something that we don’t see as much [in other programs] and that I appreciate [with Lift] is the long-term support that youth can get,” she said. “Not just in preparing for a job or for education goals, but also … support as long as they need it.”
She also describes the program’s approach toward changing the way people think about mental health and employment. She describes it as using employment as a way of improving someone’s mental health.
“Rather than waiting for someone to be complete, or saying, you know, let’s help you get better before you find a job,” she said.
Martin says he sees youth succeed through engagement with the hub and the Lift program in particular, and by seeing how youth’s lives improve when they have the independence afforded to them by having a job.
“The desire to work has been seen in this program as the most important predictor for success,” said Martin. “People have come in, and they say they’re struggling with certain things and we give them encouragement. We work from a strength-based perspective and just say, ‘yeah, we can find you a job, and we can work on any of these pieces that are challenging at the same time.’”
Martin and Sisson both agree that seeing the improvements in their clients in real-time has been their greatest satisfaction.
“Really, just seeing how the youth start to improve with engagement in the programs here,” Martin said. “It’s been really exciting just to see them build rapport with us and get more comfortable, and then see them building confidence. That’s really exciting.”
“It’s just really incredible to see how employment can change someone’s motivation,” Sisson agreed. “It’s lovely to see.”
The Lift program sets out to get youth employed within a month, something that Martin has had huge success in fulfilling.
“Nobody so far has gone past the 30 days. They have been employed within the timeline that this model sets out.”
Martin says one of the challenges he faces is getting youth to see how employment will benefit them, especially if they’re struggling. Sometimes, he said, some youth don’t engage after the first meeting with him, sometimes because they doubt their readiness and capability.
“There’s a lot to do in the first meeting, even in the first few meetings,” he said. “So, it’s getting that across to them that we do understand that with mental health challenges it can be hard, but that they do have the capability and the readiness.”
Sisson agrees, saying that changing the way people perceive the benefits of being employed is a key aspect of the program.
“One of the values and beliefs of [Individual Support Plans, like what Lift provides] is that employment can be a part of treatment,” Sisson said. “And in most cases, it helps someone’s mental health improve, rather than waiting for someone’s treatment to be complete and saying ‘let’s help you get better before you find a job.’”
Lift is just one of the Haliburton Youth Hub’s services. In addition to Martin as the IPS worker, there is also a full-time nurse practitioner, mental health and addiction supports, peer support, and care coordination.
The Hub is also registered with Rainbow Health, and provides trans-positive and other sexual health supports. The Hub also has partnerships with institutions across the county, including with the Haliburton County Public Library.
If you are between the ages of 12 and 25, you can visit the Hub in Haliburton at 12 Dysart Avenue, near the Haliburton Junction Skate Park.
For more information at a glance, visit pointintime.ca/youth/haliburton-youth-wellness-hub/.