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International Youth Day:  Youth Volunteering For Youth

International Youth Day:  Youth Volunteering For Youth

International Youth Day (IYD) is observed each year on August 12. Endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1999, IYD is an opportunity to draw attention to youth issues worldwide. This year’s theme focuses on “Youth and Mental Health” under the slogan of “Mental Health Matters.”

Mental Health MattersIn celebration of International Youth Day 2013, United Way of Peel Region, in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, awarded $15,000 in grant money to 12 youth-led initiatives that focus on addressing community issues in the Peel Region. The grants were intended to help motivate and encourage youth to take a leadership role in their community and inspire action and change. All applicants were between the ages of 14-24 and were awarded up to $2,000 to help fund their projects.

While all of the funded projects were terrific, I was especially interested in the one called “The M.A.D (Mental Health Awareness Day) Scatter” because it seemed like it was such a great way to impart an important message, and so fun. The M.A.D. Scatter was a one-day event that kicked off a month-long mental health awareness campaign targeted toward Peel youth.  M.A.D. Scatter sought to help high schoolers learn in a fun and interactive way about common stress factors they face that can impact mental health and to disprove some assumptions around mental health and illness.

The event began with a scavenger hunt, where the 150 participants followed clues to various stations and were asked to perform a task relating to mental health, like yoga. Next came a series of workshops about the negative impacts of stress and methods teens can use to control their stress levels. Participants got to openly discuss with others and brainstorm ideas on how to improve their mental health. There was an open mic session for poets and singers and the day concluded with the chance to relax, have fun through dancing. Throughout, the young people learned how minor changes in their daily habits can improve mental health.

While United Way funded and helped facilitate this event, you can create your own celebration of International Youth Day – on August 12 or any day -- in your community, school, youth club, or workplace. Check out the great ideas in the United Nations’ IYD toolkit.

The M.A.D. Scatter event was a good reminder that young people know just how to reach out to their peers in a way that matters. Events and campaigns can be great ways of reaching young people, but sometimes, just volunteering to listen to a young person can do a world of good and is a fine way to celebrate the promise of youth worldwide.