Janvi Ganatra is wrapping up her term with the Lord Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council, preparing to head off to university in the fall, but first, there are some ambitious goals to be accomplished before the school year comes to an end.
She is delighted to have built the membership to 15 young people from the community, the largest council since they began meeting in 2017, and all are active, involved members, she says.
The Grade 12 A.N. Meyer student says all but three of the members will be returning to the council next fall, but they all have their work to do before the summer break.
The council welcomes youth from NOTL from public school to high school, ages 13 to 18. They meet every other week, alternating meetings of the council with subcommittee meetings.
The subcommittees, with tasks divided between them, Ganatra says, “gives every member an opportunity to feel involved and productive.”
Their virtual meetings came together pretty easily, with students already adapting to online classes, and in some ways have been easier, without the need for transportation for the students, she says.
They’ve divided the group into three subcommittees, including outreach, advocacy and mental wellness.
Mental wellness includes physical and mental health issues; advocacy refers to local issues, including social engagement; and outreach focuses on social media and events for the enjoyment of the youth community.
The outreach committee, mentored by local businesswoman Maria Mavridis, has organized virtual events such as a trivia night, one just for youth, the other for families, both well-attended, says Ganatra. There will likely be one more this month or in June.
Their current project, to reach out to youth in the community and encourage “overall wellness,” is partnering with local businesses to put together gift packages for kids from NOTL ages 13-18. They hope for “an assortment of items such as gift cards, local vouchers, and small trinkets,” that will help “lift the spirits” of NOTL’s youth during these times.
Local businesses interested in donating items to go in these packages can contact Lauren Kruitbosch, the town’s community engagement coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Ganatra at email@example.com by May 18. All donors will be acknowledged publicly on the town and Lord Mayor Youth Advisory Council’s social media pages, as well as on a donors list included in each package.
The advocacy group, mentored by Lord Mayor Betty Disero, is looking at ways to reduce littering. There will be a survey available on the council’s social media, for youth to help determine which areas of town are subject to the most litter, with a goal of adding more garbage receptacles in those areas, say Ganatra.
One of the past accomplishments of the council, the Mental Health and Wellness Conference for Grade 8 students from all NOTL schools, was held as a virtual series of speakers last year, and this spring will feature videos of speakers who have been part of the conference in the past. The topics will address mental health issues, but are expected to focus on some of the issues facing youth during the pandemic, including social isolation.
With help from Catherine Goerzen from the NOTL Rotary Club, the mentor of the wellness committee, co-chair Julia King says the youth council is sharing tips and motivational advice on Instagram, @lmyacnotl. They are also working on modifying the annual Mental Health and Wellness Conference, to continue it online. “We are putting together a collection of pre-recorded clips from local mental health and wellness doctors, advocates and practitioners,” to have a Livestream video that can be viewed by the youth in NOTL, sometime later in May, she says.
The group has been getting great support from the town, and from the Niagara-on-the-Lake Rotary Club, which has become more involved with the council, making it an Interact Group through the Rotary Club. That partnership helps to provide funding and resources for youth council initiatives, says Ganatra.
As she prepares to finish her high school year, online, and with only a virtual graduation ahead, Ganatra says this last year as chair, and her four years with the youth council, have helped her grow, and develop leadership skills that will stand her in good stead for the future.
She looks forward to seeing this year’s goals accomplished, she says, and reflects that the advisory council work has been one more way to stay in touch and keep busy, online, as most social contact has been virtual since schools are closed.
Although all teens are finding the lack of in-person contact with their friends challenging, her impression is that most are coping well. For those who aren’t, she hopes the wellness videos will help them by reassuring them they aren’t alone, and by letting them know how to reach out if they need help.
“Everyone is dealing with something different,” she says, but she finds the biggest issue for most is the constant change regarding what is happening at school, and also changing social restrictions.
“School has changed three or four times during the pandemic. You’re just trying to get used to something and it changes again. It’s the same with social contacts. We’re used to having a social life, connecting with people, but that keeps changing too. Everyone finds that hard.”
Ganatra, who will study systems design engineering at the University of Waterloo in the fall, says as she thinks about all the uncertainties of what university will look like, she copes by taking life one step at a time, doing what she can, and trying not to worry about a future over which she has no control.
“I try to give my attention to one thing, the next thing in front of me. I plan for the future, but only one step at a time, and still live in the moment, so I don’t miss what’s happening now.”