Embracing Diversity in Our Programs

The events of the last month have provided many concerned individuals with an opportunity to discover how they can support non-profit organizations that provide social services to immigrant and resettled refugee youth populations. Because of my background in humanitarian aid, including ten years in support of refugee resettlement programs, I’ve been approached by friends, family, and colleagues asking about ways they can support organizations that work with those vulnerable populations. My answer surprises them: the Chill Foundation’s programs provide all youth with a safe, constructive space in which they can connect with peers from diverse backgrounds while challenging themselves emotionally and physically. 

Chill partners with 155 social service agencies, treatment facilities, and charter and public schools in 13 cities to provide the Chill program to the youth they serve. Over 50% of these partners send immigrant and refugee youth to participate in Chill, resulting in 61% minority participation in all Chill programs in 2015. 

Chill inspires youth to overcome challenges through board sports. For many of the youth Chill works with, those challenges are specific to the individual: drug addiction, mental health issues, and emotional challenges related to abuse or neglect. Other youth face societal challenges related to their ethnic identities, and they are often marginalized and confined to programs and activities limited to their physically and culturally isolated neighborhoods. This isolation not only has detrimental effects on individual youth, it also deprives youth from all backgrounds the opportunity to interact, learn from each other, and develop friendships and broadened perspectives that would have been unlikely to materialize had it not been for the shared experience of the Chill program.   

The most effective way for youth to overcome fear and battle ignorance is to experience transformative events in a new environment with a diverse group of peers that share the same skill level for the activity offered. When you provide mentoring, and professional instruction, in a safe and fun environment, you have a foundation for learning and understanding that does not naturally occur in the lives of most Chill participants. Chill embodies the latest Positive Youth Development (PYD) best practices to ensure participating youth build resiliency through targeted lessons and challenging physical activities. Best practices include:

•    Removing youth from their challenging environments and running programs in developmentally rich environments. Participants frequently have not experienced these environments (the mountain, the ocean, the skate park, the lake, etc.) prior to joining Chill.
•    Focusing on understanding, educating, and engaging youth in productive activities rather than at correcting, curing, or treating them for maladaptive tendencies or so-called disabilities.
•    Building on the strengths of young people, recognizing their need for positive adult interactions, positive interactions with diverse peer groups, ongoing support, and challenging opportunities. 

The youth Chill serves are all too often confined by their circumstances. Confined by poverty; depression; their neighborhood; their school; their treatment programs; society’s lack of understanding about their culture and legitimacy of their residence in this country. Without having the opportunity to travel beyond their surrounding environments and step out of their daily norms, youth are deprived of a broadened perspective, which can have the power to break down these walls of confinement, while fostering understanding and inclusion.  
Youth that are facing all kinds of challenges deserve an opportunity to engage in positive relationships with role models and peers, develop healthy beliefs and habits, be challenged in constructive ways, and to be supported in building skills for healthy risk-taking and positive decision-making. Ultimately, the most effective prevention strategies are those with a holistic approach which focus on broadening horizons and eliminating confinement. This is the essence of the Chill program.

Next time you are disheartened by the latest cycle of negative and polarizing news, please remember that the Chill Foundation is providing unique, impactful programs to vulnerable immigrant and refugee youth across North America. With your support we will continue to expand programs, and expand understanding and inclusion of our youth, while creating new and open communities of active, healthy, and emotionally intelligent young adults. 

Alex Bornstein
Executive Director, The Chill Foundation 

 

Jeff Morton