Youth Program In British Columbia Helping With The Transitions
What is Bridges to the Future all about?
Bridges is a program that seeks to inspire and support youth living with physical disabilities. It is a regional initiative in British Columbia. We aim to foster independence in youth, as they transition into the (often scary and daunting) world of adulthood. We’re all about creating positive relationships, connecting with other youth and community organizations, and providing resources to help youth through the various issues that come up (finances, housing, school/work, relationships, and everything else in between).
How does Bridges operate?
We offer various ways in which youth can engage with the program across B.C.! Whether it be through organized social events, educational workshops, community outings, an online social media presence, or meeting up one-to-one over a cup of coffee (I’m a sucker for a chai latte), we encourage youth to connect in whatever means comfortable! It is through these connections that we begin to unravel some of the issues and barriers that we face – all while having some fun!
With that said here are some of the things we help with and stories to go along with them. It is important to realize that no two youth are exactly the same, and that youth can run into these issues at different times and deal with them in different ways. But here are some general things youth may deal with when crossing the ‘bridge’ into independence.
Navigating High School
There is a lot going on during a person’s high school years. Balancing studying and grades with social activities at an age when you are just testing your boundaries, and going out of your comfort zone is a challenge. It is the place where you are spending the majority of your day when you are not sleeping. Friends you have made over the years could be here, relationships with teachers and other staff. That girl or boy that may be the subject of a lot of your thoughts, when you are not focusing solely on your studies of course! There is a lot going on and you are trying to manage a lot of things and challenges may not have solutions that are simple as you may hope.
Parents play a huge role in our lives no matter how old we are (whether we want to admit it or not!) but that relationship is at a crucial point during this time. Parents and youth alike are trying to figure out what they need/can help with while trying to prepare themselves for the move to independence. Maybe there are some things that you can’t talk to each other about as much as you would hope. How does one tell their parents they don’t need them in the same way all the time like they once did and how do parents remain supportive while taking a step back.
Creating healthy relationships is a vital part of a successful transition. We have talked about parents, teachers and other support staff, that boy or girl at school, but there can also be care attendants if your parents are doing less care. How do you ensure that all of these relationships are in good standing and you are able to be successful. How do you tell your parents and teachers what you need if you are not on the same page or work with your care attendant to ensure you get everything you need. If you have a disagreement with a friend or a problem at school, how do you work through it? Maybe that boy or girl you like at school isn’t as interested as you hope, maybe they are. Both these scenarios have unique challenges.
So you have spent as many years as you can remember at a public school, private school or maybe you were homeschooled. Now you have a better idea of subjects you enjoy and you decide that the next step for you is post secondary education. How do you decide what to take, where to take it, who should you talk to and where you should go to get the answers you need? How do you deal with getting the assistance and accommodations with classes you need or arrange transportation or setting up a care attendant to go with you? No teachers will chase you for assignments and make sure you will study. How do you make sure you are successful.
There are lots of government services out there and with that comes a lot of paperwork. I am sure you are no stranger to getting doctors to fill out many many forms, and now that you are transitioning there are more to come. If you have been managing forms yourself then you are probably used to it, but if you have been letting others usually do it then it is time to take a more active role in it for yourself. Don’t forget that you are not in this alone – this comes up again and again but is really important that you realize this as it can be a huge stress reducer. Whether it is your disability supports, housing or personal care, there will be paperwork but if you make a plan and ask for help when you need it you will make it through!
There are many differences between the child healthcare system and the adult healthcare system. Going from having everything looked after taken care of in terms of appointments and contacts, to having to book things yourself can be challenging, but it is a necessary step to independence and manageable if you have a plan in place.
Living with your parents is cool but there will probably come a time when you start wanting your own space and a little bit more freedom. It can be daunting to go through the process of applying for subsidized housing, figuring out what area(s) you want to live in what you need for accessibility accommodations in your new place, and let’s not forget managing all the stuff that your parents may have handled before. Buying groceries, household goods like shampoo, deodorant, personal care items and furniture and kitchen stuff. It may sound overwhelming but breaking it down into smaller chunks and asking for help when you need it will help a lot.
Managing your own personal care is another big piece of independence. Your parents may do most of your care right now, but chances are you will have care attendants that do some of it as well. Figuring out how to manage it on your own, where the money comes from to pay for it and how to best manage it is all part of growing up. You are not alone though and never forget that. You can have people you trust help you on your behalf and never be afraid to ask questions!
So you survived your program, passing with flying colours! First of all congratulations, job well done! Now it is time to move on to the next stage, finding work to put those freshly learned skills into practice and show the world your mad skills in whatever field you have chosen. You will really have to advocate for yourself now, it is up to you to show potential employers what you can do and what you may need to be successful. University and high school have well defined accommodations and supports to ensure your disability doesn’t get in the way of your success, but this may not always be the case so you have to be prepared to get out there, strut your stuff and let people know what you need to be successful.
Obtaining work experience can be a challenge for someone with a disability as they may need certain accommodations but the key is to find an opportunity in a place where they want to be and doing something that they have a passion for. Working with people that may already know you and aware of your skills can also lead to a better experience. “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” is some of the best work advice there is as cliché as it sounds. If finding paid employment is hard, then in some cases volunteering can be a great way to gain experience and get your foot in the door – and there are many places in your community that may be a great fit. The earlier you can do this the better as it will set you up moving forward and give you a more competitive resume.
Entering “real” life
Whatever path you choose there is always a point where you leave the streamlined services of high school, university or the children’s healthcare system. If you are finding work you will have to apply and advocate for yourself or set up your own healthcare appointments. These things can be intimidating but if you have a plan and ask for help from those around you, you will get through it and who knows, you might even enjoy your new found freedom and independence!
The Bridges Program is here to help youth and their families work through all the areas listed above and any other issues related to transition. Everyone is unique and goes through these things at their own pace so feel free to connect with us at email@example.com or feel free to find us on any of our social media or comment below, we would love to hear from you!
Meet the guys:
Nate Schwartz has been working for Muscular Dystrophy Canada and the Bridges to the Future program since April 2007. Launching the program on Vancouver Island and becoming more involved with the program at a provincial level with each passing year. His favourite part of the program is without a doubt the one to one meetings. Each youth is unique and getting to know them individually allows him to help with the transition process and tailor information and timing to their needs. One thing you may not have known about that Nate is that he is a lover of everything potato chips, he has never met a chip he has not liked!
My name is Navi, and I’m the Bridges to the Future/MuscleFacts Coordinator for BC/Yukon, working out of the Western office in Vancouver. I’m just about at my 1-year mark with the program (I started in June of 2013), and have loved all the chances I’ve gotten to chat with youth on a 1-to-1 basis; hearing and sharing our own experiences. A couple weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending the Canuck Place Youth Retreat, where I spent a week with about 20 Muscular Dystrophy Canada youth – doing some exciting activities (paintball, anyone), getting to know them all, and having an all around silly and fun time! It has definitely been a highlight of the job for me so far!