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No youth beyond reach

How one Hamilton-based charity is delivering hope during the pandemic with help from the Gay Lea Foundation


Liberty For Youth (LFY) is a not-for-profit charitable organization based in Hamilton, Ontario that provides prevention and intervention mentoring for youth aged 12 to 25 (and alumni beyond 25) who are involved in, or at-risk of falling prey to, criminal behaviour.

“We help disadvantaged, marginalized and at-risk youth with daily challenges, often under tragic circumstances,” says Frederick Dryden, the organization’s Founder & Executive Director. “Regardless of their mistakes or struggles, we try to give them the tools and support they need to succeed.”

LFY’s Mentoring Program works toward permanent behavioural change by building character, developing life and leadership skills and inspiring youth to become constructive members of their communities. It is open to all at-risk youth – regardless of their faith, ethnicity, or nationality – who face any number of negative social circumstances and challenges, including poverty, substance abuse, unsafe home environments and escaping gang involvement.

This spring, the organization saw a noticeable uptick in referrals with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The youth we’re seeing have been feeling the pressures of the mandated restrictions and lack of social interaction,” says Dryden. “On top of that, many of them come from unstable and sometimes unsafe living situations, and now they’re being forced to stay at home.”

With safety top of mind – and financial support from the Gay Lea Foundation – the organization immediately sought a way to pivot.

They began providing virtual services and creating inspirational videos to engage with youth on social media.

The organization also made a critical move away from group sessions and began providing one-on-one mentoring, retrofitting the vans they use to transport youth with plexiglass shields and mandating the use hand sanitizer, masks and gloves for all program facilitators and participants.

“We knew we had to find a safe way to maintain connections with the youth and continue to see and visually assess them – be that in person or online,” says Dryden.

He points to recent reports showing that alcohol and drug use have been on the rise since the start of the pandemic and says Liberty For Youth has seen an increase in mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.

To increase contact and help those in immediate crisis, LFY began distributing weekly care packages to youth in immediate need over the summer, providing food and/or basic supplies. Counseling services are also in place for any youth suffering with mental health issues.  

“COVID-19 has presented us with a number of challenges, but it has also created an opportunity for us to connect on a more personal, one-on-one level with our youth,” says Dryden.

“The silver lining is that we’ve been able to build greater trust and many of the youth have actually opened up to talk more about their personal thoughts and struggles.”

“We’re so grateful for the donation from the Gay Lea Foundation,” he adds. “It helped us stay nimble in an unprecedented situation and, in turn, provide the critical support so needed by at-risk youth in Hamilton and the surrounding area.” 

To learn more about Liberty for Youth and the services they provide, visit www.libertyforyouth.org.


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