Urban Angels is the name of a new pilot project that was recently launched in Thunder Bay. The project is a product of a dynamic partnership between the Guardian Angels, an international non-profit that promotes anti-bullying measures and safe communities, and Community Living Thunder Bay.
Update Friday spoke with Ian Hodgkinson, leader of the Guardian Angels initiative in Canada, and Mike Lavoie, Manager at Community Living Thunder Bay, about how the pilot project came about.
“The pilot project was a result of the success of an anti-bullying program that started with the Guardian Angels. This initial program included the teaching of self-defence techniques, as well as teaching new tools that involved diffusion, effective communication, empowerment and self-expression,” says Hodgkinson.
As a member of the Guardian Angels organization for the last two decades, Hodgkinson believes that the Urban Angels project is about teaching young adults life skills that allow them to express themselves in a safe environment, free from negative criticism. Additionally, the initiative engages individuals in physical activity and teaches them how to work together. “Over the last 20 years, I’ve noticed that many of these students each face their own set of problems and challenges. This program helps them to form bonds with one another and to realize that they are not alone, that many others face day to day challenges,” says Hodgkinson.
Community Living Thunder Bay was approached by Hodgkinson to become involved in the project after numerous recommendations from around the community. Lavoie saw the project as a way to engage transitional-aged youth supported by Community Living Thunder Bay. “A lot of kids coming to our agency right now for supportive independent living resources face a multitude of challenges. This pilot project was looked at as a non-traditional method that would complement the traditional supports we provide which, in many circumstances, are not as effective.”
“We sat down with Ian who already had a concept for the project and we developed a framework that embodied the support needs of each individual.”
For him, Lavoie believes the primary focus of the program is about teaching life skills, developing relationships, helping others overcome challenges and finding common ground from the experiences in their lives.
“The project becomes an outlet for the supported individuals to express themselves and deal with their personal issues with the help of others.”
To date, the Urban Angels program has been a success. 13 individuals from Community Living Thunder Bay come together as a team at least twice a week. They are also given the opportunity for individualized coaching.
Marcy Hurlbert, a Case Manager at Community Living Thunder Bay, is amazed at the transformations she’s seen in some of the participants.
“We have six young ladies between the ages of 19 and 24 who have been working with Ian for the last six weeks. Some of the physical activities they are put through are quite challenging, but it doesn’t matter what their ability or disability is, they are working together, overcoming obstacles, building up their self-esteem, gaining confidence and becoming physically stronger in the process.”
With encouragement from the community, Urban Angels has begun to create traction in the community and solidify a framework that extends beyond the traditional supports offered by Community Living Thunder Bay. In the future, the team anticipates the Urban Angels project will become an ongoing resource in the community. – Justin dePass