Today’s youth have a lot on their minds.
They’re living in a world that’s surging forward faster than most of us can keep up with on the best of days. They are dealing with social insecurities. Expected to maintain good grades and meet expectations. To balance extracurriculars and part-time jobs.
Throw in the rise of social media and the Internet, where they’re constantly bombarded with information, opinions and images that can be overwhelming and difficult to navigate, and it’s easy to see why many of today’s youth feel anxious, isolated and inadequate.
Colton knows this all too well. As a teen, he struggled every day with feelings of helplessness and frustration. But it all became a little easier after he started going to theROC.
“I came in one day and it was so supportive,” he says, his beige baseball hat angled slightly to the side, exuding an effortless coolness, a symbol of confidence and self-assuredness. “It was like, ‘Come and see what we can do for you.’ And it was like that every time I came in. They are all here for you.”
There’s a certain satisfaction that comes with being “seen” by others, he explains.
“It brings happiness to see people that are so genuinely excited to see you. And for that to happen every time and it never feels like a fake smile on anyone’s face. It always feels like a big smile. So to keep knowing that every time you come back you’re going to get that smile and that support, it’s amazing.”
Youth Encouraged to be Authentic Selves at theROC
At theROC, inclusivity is paramount as it fosters a safe and supportive environment for everyone to be true to who they are.
“I’m a trans guy myself, so when I come in and they’re like, ‘Oh, it’s Colton.’ It’s like this relieving feeling. Like, ‘Yeah. I’m Colton. I’m me. I get to be me when I step foot in here, in front of everyone.”
That sense of protection, support and safety is hard to beat, he explains, because it can be tricky to find once you step outside the doors of theROC.
“It’s where you can just be you,” he says. “Where you can have a weird side, or a funny side, or talented side, you can show every bit of you here. And it’s like, you get to be you. And you don’t have to hide that. Or shield it.”
TheROC: Critical for Communities
There are many kids who go to theROC who are part of the 2SLGBTQI+ community, Colton says.
It’s not uncommon for this community to face bullying, discrimination, harassment and a lack of representation. According to Stomp Out Bullying, nine out of 10 2SLGBTQI+ students reported being harassed and bullied last year. This can all lead to mental health issues, social isolation, substance abuse, self-harm and more.
Given all this, it’s critical to see why having a safe place like theROC is so important.
“There are so many kids who are part of the 2SLGBTQI+ community here and they can come here and [they don’t have to feel] like they have to struggle or worry about being who they are here because they are safe here and they are protected,” Colton says.
Having a place like this in Prince Edward County has helped so many youth in so many ways, he says.
“It helps incredibly,” he says. “When you come in and you need help with something and don’t know how to ask for help at school, everyone is right there to help you and see what you’re doing and be supportive. So when you’re here, you feel that. You feel like you’re getting a trusted answer and you’re getting what you need.”
Meeting Youth Where They’re At
Part of theROC’s mission is to tailor support to the individual needs and experiences of the youth.
And to many of those who go to theROC – Colton included – this has not gone unnoticed.
“I definitely have to say, no matter the struggle that somebody has, or no matter how deep of a situation they’re in, they’re not willing to just give up,” he says. “They’re always there. If there’s a problem [you have], they’re going to help you. They’re going to find whatever resources they can for you, and they’re going to make sure you’re as happy as you can be.”
Uncovering a Sense of Self
Part of being a youth means taking a journey to uncover who you are. But it can be tough. So many factors are completely out of our control. Things like peer pressure, social media, family expectations and more can all take a huge toll.
But for Colton, theROC’s support helped him to discover a sense of self that allowed him to be all he is and then some.“When I was uncertain about my name and who I was, they just accepted [me]”, he says. “They showed me that just because you’re not the same as everyone else, you can still be who you are. That was the moment I knew this was a safe place for everyone to be. A safe place for me to be.”