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Preston High School student using Youth Impact Survey results to create tangible change

The Youth Impact Project sees youth work alongside local organizations to address issues in the community
Haniya Nazir is playing a critical role in helping the Youth Impact Project become a reality in the community.

When Preston High School student Haniya Nazir saw the Cambridge results of the recent Youth Impact Survey, she knew there had to be action.

That's what makes the newly created Youth Impact Project so compelling to her.

The project, launched by Smart Waterloo Region and the Children and Youth Planning Table, aims to help fund young people's ideas to build on areas of weakness found within the survey results.

A total of $70,000 is available for projects they want to work on alongside various community organizations.

Many local organizations, including the Cambridge Food Bank, Kidsability, Kinbridge Community Association, Langs, Rhythm and Blues and YWCA Cambridge are on board to make these projects a reality.

There are several areas of focus in Cambridge specifically, from food insecurity and hidden homelessness to access to physical and mental health resources.

As a youth connector responsible for being a liaison between youth in the community and the CYPT, Nazir understands the responsibility of enacting tangible change is partly hers.

She wants to focus on easy access to mental health services that are stigma free.

"Connecting all these mental health resources is important," Nazir said.

"I was speaking to someone and they were saying there's lots of resources in Cambridge but the problem is they're not connected. Accessibility is a big one, I think with proper money we can open up wellness hubs to have safe places to meet other youth and create a better sense of community."

Nazir will be one of the people on the panel hearing project ideas and determining who receives funding.

It's an important job and one she recognizes the significance of.

One of the biggest issues she's seen in the past is once the data is collected and problems are recognized, there's then a barrier to youth being able to help create change.

"How can they help? Where do they go? Where do they get that money? Where do they find the time?" Nazir said.

"With the Youth Impact Project there's organizations that will help guide them. They'll give them the resources and now we won't only hear from youth but their responses can finally come into action."

Milind Kumar, a University of Waterloo student completing an innovations coordinator co-op with the Region of Waterloo, is assisting in the training of organizations to ensure they're set up for success once funding is handed out.

The training consists of everything from helping them recognize key issues and how to address them, to putting each individual in the right role within the team to ensure a successful result.

"We've focused on being able to better understand and implement youth voices and ideas in the community," Kumar said.

"What we want to try and do is help youth get involved in the process of solving these problems. They know better than some adults about how to best address these challenges."

A few groups have already started brainstorming and mental health support is a common theme, Kumar said.

"The biggest thing for us is helping youth feel their voice matters in the community and they feel a greater sense of engagement," he said.

"Hopefully for the organizations, they feel a greater sense of connection to the community. We all have the ability to create change."

Nazir knows a lot of work needs to be done to see successful outcomes in the next survey but believes these projects are a great first step.

"We never know until we try and we haven't tried until now," she said.

"Seeing this gives me hope. We have these ideas and now we're finally giving youth a platform. That's what we deserve."