PEERS Alliance planning to expand LGBTQ youth programs to Summerside
'We have a group of volunteers who have been trained and are ready to go'
PEERS Alliance is working to expand its LGBTQ youth programs to western P.E.I. by bringing a monthly youth support group to Summerside this fall.
The organization, formerly called AIDS P.E.I., currently offers a drop-in support group program in Charlottetown twice a month and organizers say young people are driving in from across the province to be a part of it.
This program is filling a gap, and filling a gap that is really needed by these youth.— Cybelle Rieber
"We have youth coming in from all over the Island," said Cybelle Rieber, the executive director of PEERS Alliance.
"From Kensington, and Montague and Summerside, we have youth driving in or their parents are driving them in some cases."
Rieber said PEERS Alliance has been part of several discussions with community organizations in Summerside, including the Boys and Girls Clubs and a number of schools.
"We know there's a need in Summerside and we're hearing that from the community," Rieber said. "We're working hard to try to expand the program so that we can offer LGBTQ+ youth groups in Summerside once a month."
PEERS Alliance has been offering LGBTQ support groups for youth aged 12 to 18 for the last two years. Staff at the organization say it's been a successful program and they usually see over a dozen people at each meeting.
Rieber said PEERS Alliance has already trained six new group facilitators in the Summerside area and have been working with the local Boys and Girls Club to establish the support program within the city.
"They've participated in our youth group training as well and we're very much hoping that we'll be able to solidify a partnership with the Boys and Girls Club in Summerside," she said.
Establishing a group in Summerside, Rieber said, is the first step toward growing the program across the Island.
"This program is filling a gap, and filling a gap that is really needed by these youth," Rieber said. "It creates resilience and coping, it increases the chances of these youths to be successful and it also creates connection and community."
Rieber said there's a "level of isolation" among youth and and there remains "a lot of bullying around sexual identity and around gender identity" in schools.
However, providing opportunities for LGBTQ youth to get involved with others within their community, she added, can reduce the risk of social isolation and mental illness.
"We know that there's a need in Summerside, we know there's a need in the western end of the Island," Rieber said.
"We have a group of volunteers who have been trained and are ready to go and we're really excited to continue to make plans to begin the program in Summerside."
Rieber said PEERS Alliance is currently working to secure funding to support the new Summerside program.
The organization hopes to begin offering Summerside youth groups once a month starting in September.