The Smooth Transitions Outreach Program (STOP) is a community-driven, cost-effective, proactive and colla-borative approach to helping youth reduce the negative effects that can occur before, during and after a vulnerable transition. These transitions may include moving to Canada, changing schools, experiencing academic difficulties, parental divorce and the death of a loved one.
A vulnerable transition is often accompanied by feelings of grief, confusion, anger, disorientation, anxiety and fear.
STOP was created by 3OWN Muslim Youth and Family Services and its partners. It was launched in 2010 and has gained widespread attention locally and internationally.
The program's focus was initially on helping immigrant youth who were struggling to make new friends in Canada. It has since been extended to include career, performance, academic, social and spiritual transitions.
STOP utilizes the profile of York Regional Police to advance its work, exploring opportunities for building community partnerships, outreach, engagement and collaboration in a multitude of programs and initiatives.
Mahdi Qasqas, STOP's Founder and Developer, had worked as a volunteer with hundreds of youth and he felt it was paramount that a more comprehensive approach be created to help youth overcome the challenges associated with alienation and loneliness.
Although their first days in Canada are often exciting, many immigrant youth feel emotionally traumatized as time passes and they struggle to make new friends. This can have a negative impact on many aspects of their lives.
Mr. Qasqas has always believed in the value of helping others and that no one should be alone when they need help; thus the STOP initiative was born, and it quickly matured into an endeavour with a range of positive impacts on individuals who are moving through a vulnerable transition.
First, every youth should know at least one friendly face before the first day of school. This will alleviate anxiety and help them focus more on being successful and less on their sense of belonging and safety. No youth should have to fear the first day of school and, through this program, they don't have to.
Second, some youth face other difficult transitions such as failing a course or not making the school sports team. These experiences are accompanied by a sense of loss and can negatively impact the person's self-esteem.
Third, recent incidents have shown that some youth who have gone overseas to join a terrorist organization had previously struggled with a spiritual transition (i.e. reaffirmation or conversion). Mentors, crisis workers and counsellors have been put in place to provide culturally responsive services to help youth through such difficult transitions.
One day, Mr. Qasqas saw the message "it hurts to be alone" written in dust at a school, and he decided to address the problem of loneliness felt by so many students. He knew that loneliness can lead to misery and compel youth to turn to negative or criminal elements to find a sense of belonging.
Making a Difference
Through STOP, youth in vulnerable transitions have gained meaningful relationships and experienced less loneliness, alienation, isolation and marginalization. Their families have expressed gratitude.
The program has also led to more positive peer groups and a greater sense of empowerment in those individuals and groups who have helped young people experiencing transition.
This initiative is contributing to systemic change byhosting major events with international participants. It has started a dialogue on what happens to youth after they leave a specific institution (e.g. prison, hospital orschool) and has also led to the formation of supportive clubs at schools.
One main challenge has been convincing agencies that the initiative was for all youth moving through a vulnerable transition and not solely for immigrant youth. Over time, and through various educational activities, 3OWN has able to overcome this issue.
Another challenge, which still persists, is in working with agencies and institutions whose mandates limit their involvement with youth that have left their service (e.g. after moving from a children's to an adult hospital, following release from prison to the community or after moving from one province to another).
Vision for the Future
3OWN's vision for the future is to ensure that every youth in transition is afforded the information and emotional support needed to pass through their
transition and experience it as an opportunity forgrowth rather than a cause to remain stuck.
It hopes to partner with a range of organizations to ensure its outreach is strong and effective. Furthermore, it is currently working on other populations experiencing transition, such as newlyweds, new parents and new senior citizens.
3OWN plans on recruiting, training and retaining 1,000 mentors, 500 crisis workers and 100 counsellors by 2020 to address various transitions in a culturally responsive, effective and timely fashion.
3OWN is the cumulative product of 15 years of service and over 11,000 volunteer hours towards empowering youth across Alberta by its founder,Mahdi Qasqas.
Its vision is to live in a safer, healthier and more prosperous world where youth and families receive timely, effective and culturally responsive services.
Its mission is to empower youth, families, the communities they live in and the organizations that serve them. It does this through various counselling, training, research and community development initiatives.
The OWN IT conference, and the Mobilizing Albertan Youth convention, are two annual events led by 3OWN. It has also developed its Reach 1 Teach 1 Mentorship Program, Counselling Muslim Training Certification and Smooth Transitions Outreach Program.
Best Practice Contact
Mahdi Qasqas, President
7750 Ranchview Dr. N.W.Calgary, AB T3G 4E9