Building Community, connecting youth: Tofino empowers youth leaders

Participation in recreational activities with peers is critical to youth development and building healthy lifestyles. But for youth growing up in rural west coast communities like those in and around Tofino and Ucluelet, opportunities to connect and engage with peers are not always possible.

A regular survey of youth at local high schools revealed a lack of programming, a lack of transportation, and prohibitive costs as barriers for teens wanting to engage in recreation, particularly across cultures, says Faye Missar, a project coordinator with the Clayoquot Biosphere Trust. In response to survey results and youth workers advising on the need for more youth programming in the area, a team from the District of Tofino, the West Coast Resource Society, the Clayoquot Biosphere Trust, and the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation, came together to create a micro-granting program for youth-led projects related to social connectedness. The project, which commenced in 2017, was supported by funding from the PlanH Cultivating Connections stream.

Teenagers in Tofino participate in an art class.
“Our biggest goal was to improve youth feelings of belonging, and to strengthen peer relationships among members of our different west coast communities,” says Jaime Larsen, a recreation programmer with the District Tofino.

There was an overwhelming response to the first “West Coast Community Connections: Bridging our Youth” grant proposal call-out, says Missar. Priority was given to projects that bridged communities and cultures, giving youth aged 11 to 21 the opportunity to come together and connect.

A group of teenagers participate in a youth art night.
Photo courtesy of District of Tofino.


“We received a real range of project requests from youth themselves or people working with community organizations who linked up with youth,” she says.

Grants up to $2,000 were given to support proposals for the following projects:

  • Surfrider Youth Club
  • Earth Keepers: Elemental Hip Hop Music Workshops
  • Youth Choir
  • Balancing our Minds and Spirits Youth Conference
  • Ahousaht Skate Day
  • Whalefest Carving and Connections Workshop
  • Ahousaht Recreation for Youth
  • Cultural Craft Workshops
  • The Youth Art Workshops at Ultramarine Art Supply

The projects attracted youth from the original seven communities including Tofino and surrounding communities Opitsaht, Esowista/Ty-Histanis, Ucluelet, Ahousaht, and Hitacu. Additionally, the team says programs also attracted youth from neighbouring First Nations communities of Kyuoquot, Ditidaht, and Mowachaht.

“The results were incredible—we had the opportunity to engage over 400 youth participants, from 10 different west coast communities, through 10 different youth-led/inspired projects and events,” says Larsen.

One program that stands out for Missar is the Youth Choir, a choir based in Ucluelet with local students traveling in from Tofino and the surrounding area to attend. Ucluelet Secondary School came forward to provide the space needed for the choir to rehearse, and free bussing was arranged for youth needing transportation.

“Living in such a small town there are very little opportunities for youth. Having the youth choir with students from Ucluelet Secondary School gave many a wonderful chance to participate in an extra-curricular activity where they could explore their passion, connect with new people and learn more about music,” writes Lilli Wickham, a 17-year-old participant from Tofino.

The Youth Choir has since received another grant to be able to continue.

Another unique project Missar highlights is a youth skateboarding event that was organized in the community of Ahousaht. A rural First Nations community near Tofino, Ahousaht can only be accessed by boat or plane. The “Ahousaht Skate Day” was organized by two youth from the Ucluelet Secondary School, and included boat transportation to Ahousaht, lunch for participants, and skill-based workshops with a skateboard instructor. The event was free, and attracted youth from the communities of Tofino, Ucluelet, and Ahousaht.

For the team behind “Bridging our Youth” program, it was an exciting year of building momentum for more youth-led projects in their communities. They reported an increase in the number of regional youth initiatives, projects, programs, and activities and an increased number of peer relationships and peer-to-peer learning as a result of the grants.

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