Charli Allardice was announced as the winner for week four of the Sparwood Bakes Challenge. Allardice’s colourful creation won her first prize in the cupcake category. Photo Submitted

Sparwood youth bake, paint, and sew their way through pandemic

A variety of exciting programming from Youth Action Sparwood and partners is keeping teens engaged

As the pandemic continues, we’re seeing that some people are dealing with the boredom that isolation entails in creative and productive ways. Young people in Sparwood are some of those leading the charge against boredom and forging a future full of learning and new skills.

According to Joni Laberge, community youth coordinator for Youth Action Sparwood, teens are at a very unique and powerful point in their brain development.

“Social interaction is essential to developing a sense of who they are and how they fit in to the community,” she explained. “Teen brains crave more stimulation and variety than any other age group. Boredom is literally harder for them…I’ve noticed that teens are looking at the big picture and thinking about how to support others.”

The five teens who serve on the Sparwood Youth Advisory Commission have started meeting every Monday with Laberge via Zoom to work on programming options for other teens in the area. So far, they’ve come up with a number of engaging programs that have been a huge hit with youth in Sparwood.

“Our five youth commissioners shared that teens need something to look forward to when times are challenging”, Laberge said. “They said that boredom is one of the hardest things for teens to endure. My teen bosses said that the most important thing we can do is give young people hope and a sense of purpose. We know that some teens have been unable to stick to social distancing measures, and some have turned to less healthy coping strategies. Our job is to do our best to offer constructive options and virtual social outlets.”

One of the most popular programs to come out of Youth Action Sparwood is the Sparwood Bakes Challenge in conjunction with Crumbs Cakery and Cafe. One teen mentioned that she’d been baking to help deal with the boredom of the pandemic and it inspired a whole challenge.

According to the Crumbs Cakery and Cafe Facebook page, “Sparwood Bakes is all about squashing boredom, getting your baking at home and building some mad skills in the kitchen.”

The six week challenge invites young bakers to try making a different culinary confection every week and then submitting a photo to be judged. Each week, the bakers are given a new challenge, an optional recipe to use and baking tips from Crumbs Cakery owner, Amy Cardozo.

“Joni and I thought it would be a fun way to help teens learn some valuable kitchen skills at home during isolation,” Cardozo explained. “A baking challenge is obviously right up Crumb Cakery’s alley so it was a perfect fit for us. Each week is meant to build upon the skills learned in the previous week but teens are welcome to join in the challenge at any time.”

Although Cardozo and Laberge were both unsure what the reaction to the baking challenge would be, they’ve since been blown away by the number of participants and their enthusiasm. While Laberge noted that they’ve had approximately three times the number of participants that they expected, Cardozo agreed, adding that the Sparwood community continues to amaze.

“The reaction has been incredible,” said Cardozo. “Honestly I would have been happy to see two or three participants each week but Sparwood, as always, has far surpassed my expectations. We’ve been seeing anywhere from six to 16 participants each week.”

With the success of the Sparwood Bakes Challenge came even more youth programming for skill building.

Sewing with Jean was an in person program that Youth Action Sparwood had in the works. Thanks to the dedication of facilitator Jean Shatalow, they were able to adapt and move the program online.

“When I started adapting my programs to distance based programs, Jean suggested the ear protectors project,” said Laberge. “It’s a simpler project so it can be achieved through video instruction.”

Youth participants are walked through how to create ear protectors using buttons generously donated by the community. Through a contact at Interior Health, the ear protectors will be picked up, sanitized and distributed to front line healthcare workers once they are finished.

Sue Hanlon of ArtBeat Activities is also helping to keep Sparwood youth entertained and engaged. Hanlon and Laberge partnered to create two distance programming kits, one for watercolour painting and another for drawing. Hanlon has been uploading instructions and learning modules via YouTube and Laberge said that “her warmth shines through, making participants feel connected in spite of the distance.”

With spring time on its way and gardening season in full swing, Youth Action Sparwood is also working on offering garden kits that focus on container gardening. With help and donations from various local individuals and businesses, the gardening program will offer teens a way to get their hands dirty and learn about food security.

All of the distance learning kits provided by Youth Action Sparwood can be picked up by appointment through Sparwood Leisure Services. Thanks to the thoughtful foresight of the teens who oversee the group, the kits are available to people who are not teens or do not live in Sparwood when possible. The teens of Youth Action Sparwood wanted to ensure everyone has access to these programs during the pandemic.

“These hard times have a silver lining,” Laberge insisted. “People are showing how much they care. The community has shown all kinds of support, enthusiasm and positive responses through our Instagram and Facebook accounts.”

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