School is normally a place for kids to see their friends, but with online learning lacking in social engagement, youth programs like Girl Guides and Scouts Canada, are providing those opportunities for interactions.
“Youth in our group we’re telling us that no one in their classes has their camera on,” said Rachel Collins, who runs a unit of 12 to 14-year-old girls called ‘Pathfinders’ for Girl Guides in Guelph. “So even though we think it’s a classroom, they’re really getting no social interaction in a school setting.”
This fall, 22 participants have signed up for Collin’s Pathfinders group and there is a wait list.
“I’m sure there are girls and families who have withdrawn from guiding right now because it’s not what they’ve signed up for, but we’ve had really consistent attendance in our unit last year and we had most of our Pathfinders attend right through to the end of the year,” she said.
“We’ve had youth express that this was a bright spot in their week, or that even if they were having a bad week, they had something to look forward to.”
With 10 years of experience in volunteering, Collins said the organization has always had strong support in Guelph. Currently, this community has more than two units for each of the four branches in Girl Guides.
“I’ve seen a lot of really strong units, really consistent flow-through of girls going from branch to branch,” said Collins.
Also a former board member with Girl Guides, Collins adds the pandemic has impacted organizations across the board and has taken a toll on well-being and capacity.
“Certainly, we’ve seen a number of our adult volunteers step back and take a break… we have frontline workers, caregivers and moms, (who volunteer) and sometimes they’re all three.”
Within her unit, Collins and her co-leader have been able to find creative ways of engaging with youth during the pandemic, including virtual events and guest speakers, or exploring the community.
“We’ve done a lot of adapting this year, we’ve become really good improvisers,” said Collins, mentioning they couldn’t play games like tag, but could do archery or learn about coding.
“Girl Guiders, parents, everyone alike, has to understand and expect that it’s not a normal year, of course it’s not, it’s not normal in any way, but we’ve still had a great year."
“We had to pivot and find new ways of doing things and we have learned that we can do things in a virtual, or in a hybrid-way," said Dean Post, a local volunteer with Scouts Canada and a council commissioner for the central escarpment council, about how the pandemic affected the organization.
With only a handful of new volunteers last year, Post said many volunteers had to think creatively to engage youth, from running national virtual events to delivering materials to group members to do in-home activities.
“Through a mixture of their imaginations and their resourcefulness, we have had many groups be successful in how they deliver this programming,” said Post, adding they have received positive feedback from youth and their parents.
Right now, there are 11 active groups within the City of Guelph. Across the country and council, Post said groups had an uptick in new and returning members, but are on the lookout for more volunteers.
"Admittedly, volunteers and families have had different experiences during the pandemic and not all of us can be COVID privileged and for some of us, the changes have not been working and have not been engaging lately,” said Post about the organization's recovery of volunteers, “We’re always looking for adults and we will provide the training and positive experiences for them."
When talking about Scouts virtual programming and online learning, Post adds he thinks it gives kids a different social experience.
“Kids got to hangout with their friends, they got to be goofy and they got to be kids," he said.