With the prevalence of social media applications such as Instagram and TikTok among the young, fewer youth are spending their time on the streets. Consequently, the team from Boys’ Town YouthReach have begun their outreach online. The need for the new approach was also accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent circuit breaker which put a pause on physical outreach.
To engage youths virtually, youth workers picked up TikTok dance moves, conducted soccer training sessions over Zoom and used Instagram Live to discuss key issues that youth face and give tips on stress management. Youth workers shared that over the course of the circuit breaker, they learnt how to brainstorm youth-friendly content, direct and act in, and edit videos, which was a new but enabling experience for all of them.
Being flexible and staying relevant on various social media platforms was key to maintaining connections with the youth in-need, especially during the pandemic. Ms Teng Ziying, youth worker and Deputy Lead of YouthReach shared that “The youths are online more than ever and are most comfortable in that virtual space. They share information more freely digitally than in real life sometimes. When we connect with them online, we establish a positive presence and get to interact with them meaningfully.”
Celebrating 10 years
Beginning their outreach online was certainly a significant way to mark YouthReach’s 10 years of serving and caring for youth in-need. From their humble beginnings in 2010, YouthReach’s programmes and services have evolved from school-based social work, drop-in services and street outreach to interest-based programmes such as soccer, skateboarding and expressive arts, and counselling and case management services for youth in-need aged 10-24 in the areas of Tampines and Toa Payoh.
Expressing his delight at Catholic Welfare Services (CWS)’s collaboration with Boys’ Town YouthReach, Dr Michael Thio, Chairman of CWS said: “Over the years, we have seen how this great synergy between our two Catholic organisations and common mission have made a huge impact on helping the youth in-need and integrating them back to society. We look forward to continuing our efforts and dedication in serving the youth.”
Currently, YouthReach is managed by Boys’ Town and supported by CWS and Caritas Singapore.
Whilst online outreach to the youth has become essential with the accessibility of technology, youth workers from YouthReach have maintained that street outreach is still necessary. The personal contact with the youth helps the youth worker build trust and also project a positive influence. Subsequently, regular meetings and mentoring have the potential to not only help the youth realise their personal needs and issues, but also to overcome them and succeed in life.
One such youth who has seen a major transformation is 19-year-old Alif, who has been journeying with YouthReach since 2015. His first encounter with YouthReach was through the soccer interest programme. Back then, Alif was introverted and highly critical of himself. He also had difficulties in expressing his emotions and thoughts. Recognising his interest and flair for soccer, his youth worker used the sport as a medium to coach him life skills. Through the continuous support of his mentors, Alif has since grown to become more confident of himself and has since been appointed captain of the YouthReach soccer team, leading 30 other youths.
Youth workers journey with youths till they are about 24 years old, which is also when the youth hit key developmental milestones in their lives such as National Service and tertiary education. Before they part ways, youth workers usually ensure that the youth have ironed out any possible concerns, and have clear life and career goals for adulthood.
For youth workers at YouthReach, journeying with the youth has also been a life-changing experience for them. They have benefitted in their interactions with the youths by listening wholeheartedly to their stories and witnessing their resilience in the face of personal challenges. They have also come to realise that their work is not just a job, but a spiritual journey of growth and discovery, regardless of their religious beliefs.
Walking ahead together
YouthReach wishes that others will come forward to volunteer and be part of the journey and transformative process of helping the youth of today become better adults of tomorrow.
Ms Teng also hopes that adults and parents may approach youths with an open mind and a curious heart. “Youths have beautiful stories to tell, and wonderful perspectives, if you sincerely want to know and ask.”