From the Factivist, Spring 2012
By Esther Steeves, Volunteer Writer
At-risk, "high-risk", troublemaker, hoodlum, drug addict, and criminal are just some of the labels that the youth who visit iHuman are given in our society.
In many cases, these youth have either turned away or been turned away from other service providers, feeling alienated by a judgmental system of supports, and have nowhere left to turn.
Many of these youth have criminal records, a file with Alberta Human Services, ongoing addictions, and conditions such as fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and other brain injuries. Without intervention, they are vulnerable to a path of gang involvement, crime, poverty, and homelessness.
As a consequence of the risks and challenges individual youths bear, society as a whole is vulnerable to losing the capacity and value of these individuals. Not to mention the increased costs to society for providing life-long social supports to individuals who become incarcerated or dependent on social support systems.
At iHuman, youth deconstruct the labels placed upon them by society and develop a new, positive, sense of identity through artistic expression. Founded by two artists in 1997, iHuman provides space, supplies, and mentorship for youth. Programs include music, fashion, art and design, dance and drama, and written word. These creative outlets provides youth with opportunities to create representations of their lived experiences, building their self-knowledge and trust in the process.
The experience of exploring identity through art builds resilience and supports youth to create new, workable life paths that resonate with individuals emerging sense of self-awareness and personal goals. iHuman Executive Director Catherine Broomfield writes,Exploring binary factors such as what I am and where I want to be or their good side and their dark side in mediums that resonate with the youth allows them to truly explore their individuality. In discovering who they are, a youth discovers that they can express openly issues and pain that otherwise has no outlets to be vented safely.
In addition to art programs, iHuman also provides a variety of supportive outreach services to youth accessing the agencys art programs. Youth can access a variety of services provided directly through the agency or through partner organizations to meet their immediate needs for shelter, food, clothes, child care, and more.
Several outreach workers are employed at iHuman, working one-on-one with each youth to facilitate connections and provide seamless system navigation and advocacy. iHuman also runs programs, like Woven Journey, to provide targeted assistance and encouragement for specific groups, like new mothers.
iHuman was recently recognized for their High Risk Youth Uncensored program through receipt of a 2011 Gold Laurel Award from law firm, Duncan and Craig, which seeks to raise the profile of innovative community agencies. This initiative is a collaborative project between iHuman, Alberta Children's Services (Region 6) High Risk Youth Unit and the University of Alberta in which youth train community workers in dealing with clients respectfully and non-judgmentally.
The organization works with approximately 500 youth aged 12 to 24 each year. Between 90 and 95 per cent of these clients are from Aboriginal backgrounds; and many have been referred by an aunt, a sister, a cousin, or other relation, who themselves benefited from iHumans program. Referrals also come from the court, probation officers and other professionals or social service agencies.
In some ways iHumans approach is to take on a role similar to that of a family, providing a safe, stable, neutral environment that nurtures each individual to better understand themselves through creativity. iHuman helps equip clients with the self-understanding to take control of their lives and make deliberate choices about their futures.
Success for iHumans clients depends on each individuals goals and strengths, and does not necessarily entail becoming an established artist. Some youth have achieved high levels of advanced education and professional success, including international recognition for excellence in their fields of study. Others have established leadership roles within the community, working to address local social problems that they were affected by. For others, success is about meeting personal short-term goals, such as staying clean and sober for a period of time or living independently.
Based on provincial data and the high birthrate in Aboriginal communities, iHuman projects that over half of Edmontons youth population will be from Aboriginal backgrounds within the next five to 10 years. This trend is expected to increase the demand for iHumans services significantly.
Currently, iHumans studio space is housed in a temporary location in Edmontons downtown east side. Broomfield envisions a larger, permanent facility that can meet growing demand as well as providing a more stable environment for clients. Location permanence, notes Broomfield, is critical to providing an environment conducive to building trust.
iHuman is a key part of Edmontons social safety net. It is often the shelter of last resort for clients with no other options, but it is far from the bottom of the barrel. Rather, iHuman intentionally creates an atmosphere to attract youth with the highest needs and - in many cases - the greatest potential. Through its culture of openness and acceptance, hundreds of Edmontons youth have found a place to call home, and new ways of relating constructively to mainstream society and the broader community in order to meet their personal goals.
Broomfield, C. (2012). (E. Steeves, Interviewer)