Immigrating to a new country can be an isolating and lonely experience, even more so if you are a young person.
This was the case for Alhamin Animashaun when he landed in Canada five years ago.
“I struggled a lot with my self-esteem and self-image…I couldn’t find where I fit into my new country,” says Animashaun. “It started to take a toll on my mental health, and I knew I needed to do something about it.”
- Are you a young person in Toronto who is looking for support? Learn more about WoodGreen's Youth Wellness Centre.
A place to call home
A visit to his doctor proved that Animashaun wasn’t alone in his struggles. The expectations placed on newcomer youth can be overwhelming, and being alone can often seem like the easiest coping mechanism.
In a search for mental health support, Animashaun’s hospital staff referred him to WoodGreen’s Youth Wellness Centre, where he expected to receive standard counselling and treatment. But he soon realized that WoodGreen’s services were far from standard – what he needed wasn’t intensive counselling, but a place to socialize, learn, and connect with other community members.
“I needed community. I needed support and friends and a place to feel at home. The drop-in program at the Youth Wellness Centre was an unexpected but much-needed surprise,” recalls Animashaun.
WoodGreen's Youth Wellness Centre is a welcoming place for youth
The drop-in program, run by WoodGreen’s Youth Wellness Centre, is a safe space for Indigenous, LGBTQ+, racialized, and marginalized youth. Created by and for young people, the program gives youth the opportunity to sign up for skill-building workshops, get help with homework, access mental health supports, and socialize with friends. Aside from regular programming, it also provides a place for youth to congregate on weeknights and fosters community building.
“People can come and go as they please, that’s what’s great about it. We play games, chat, relax, and just enjoy each other’s company. There’s no pressure or commitment,” Animashaun explains.
Following his first visit, Animashaun began attending the drop-in program after school on a weekly basis, building his network and starting to grow a community of friends and confidants. He says that entering the doors to WoodGreen lifted the weight he had been carrying after only a few sessions and inspired him to start taking a leadership role.
“The program is very interactive; it’s not just about listening. We’re able to make our own ideas and suggestions on how to improve the space and tailor it to what we all need,” says Animashaun.
A natural leader, Animashaun regularly assumes the job of making sure that his fellow drop-in youth are included. “I love bringing people out of their shells and making them feel comfortable,” he says.
He fosters this warm, inclusive environment for incoming youth each time he visits the Youth Wellness Centre, providing advice in their transition from secondary to post-secondary schooling, helping them socialize, and making sure they are well-adjusted to the program and its offerings.
Animashaun and WoodGreen welcome new participants with open arms each week
As one of the Youth Wellness Centre’s biggest referral sources, Animashaun is adamant about getting the word out. Since getting involved with WoodGreen, he has brought friends on board, who now visit the drop-in program even when he can’t. “It’s great to see my friends become visibly happier and more productive after experiencing what the program has to offer,” Animashaun says.
He’s busy these days, both with personal development and WoodGreen-affiliated events and programming. Most recently, Animashaun has taken part in WoodGreen’s Rites of Passage program, a guided process to support Black youth in their transition to adulthood which, as Animashaun says, reflects his own self. He has also recently joined WoodGreen’s Youth Advisory Council (YAC), which advocates for issues that are important to and affect our youth population.
“I love getting to attend the YAC meetings and having the opportunity to volunteer for different events. It’s completely changed my outlook and connects me to people who I never would have met otherwise. It means a lot to be able to contribute to new initiatives that open more doors for younger generations,” he says.
Animashaun says that his involvement with WoodGreen inspired him to transfer from York University, where he was studying engineering, to Toronto Metropolitan University, where he hopes to study nursing.
“Being a part of the drop-in program inspired me to re-evaluate what I want to do. I want to do work that directly helps people and my community,” he says. “I want to give back and make an impact on others the way that this program has made an impact on me. That’s what I’m prioritizing now.”
Today, he says that his experience at WoodGreen’s youth drop-in program has strengthened his networking skills, taught him self-love, and given him the confidence he needs to excel in his future career, no matter what it might be.
“I’ve gained crucial life skills that will allow me to do everything I need to: work, socialize, and, most importantly, make connections,” says Animashaun. “In the end, that’s what it’s all about.”