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Spectrum offers space for queer youth to sparkle

YSB's weekly group provides education and essentials

Spectrum volunteers Rhonda Chamberlain (left) and Erica Butler shine through with smiles. Credit: Bradley Turcotte
Since 1960, the Youth Services Bureau (YSB) has catered to Ottawa’s at-risk juveniles.

After conducting a comprehensive needs assessment of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth, the YSB launched the Spectrum Youth Group last month to address the specific issues modern queer kids are faced with.
 

Spectrum aims to dissect these issues like a prism, implementing educational tools that deal with everything from depression and substance abuse to coming to terms with sexual identity and social justice.

The group also offers several basic-needs services, such as laundry, access to showers and on-site counselling.
 

Spectrum is additionally integrated with the rainbow of services offered by YSB, such as emergency shelters, a drop-in centre, a transitional and long-term housing program and access to a health clinic.
 
A typical night at Spectrum includes the oppurtunity to use its services and take part in an icebreaker activity, an educational workshop or play board games. Previous workshop topics have included queer representation in comic books, heteronormativity and genderbending.
 
Spectrum volunteer Erica Butler, 21, says that since the group held its first meeting last month, it has evolved into a vital social outlet for many of the young participants.
“You can already see there is a community developing. People are forming friendships and making lasting relationships,” Butler says.
 
Fellow volunteer Rhonda Chamberlain, 24, says it was important for her to get involved in Spectrum, as such services were nonexistent when she was in high school.
 
“I think seeing youth grow together and create a community is inspiring. It’s important for everybody to feel included,” she says.
 
Andrea Poncia, an HIV/AIDS educator who works directly with Spectrum, says the group is extremely fortunate to have volunteers such as Butler and Chamberlain leading the collective.
 
“All the youth volunteers bring many talents and experiences to their role,” Poncia says.

“We are fortunate to have a strong team of young people involved in our youth engagement program at the Youth Services Bureau with Spectrum.”

The group is currently seeking new volunteers to shine new light through their spectrum. Being queer is not a prerequisite, although a willingness to learn is, Chamberlain says.
 
“We’re looking for volunteers who will be accountable for their actions and are willing to be educated themselves. I think a big part of our team is that everyone should feel safe. Part of that is learning yourself, recognizing what other people’s needs are and thinking about how we can accommodate those needs,” Chamberlain says.
 
Spectrum Youth Group
Every Tuesday, 7-9pm
Open to youth aged 12-25

Youth Services Bureau
147 Besserer St