An interview with Claire (Bear) Barron, Lead Facilitator at Friendship In Action (FIA)
Updated: Jan 22
Q: Throughout our programming, we talk about the importance and value of peer support – why is it important and what is it?
A: When students connect over an issue and can see that their connection provided empathy, they feel the power of peer support, and ultimately come to realize that when they can help someone else feel better, they also feel better about themselves.
Around the early teenage years, kids are more likely to turn to their friends when they have a problem rather than an adult. This is normal and natural and an important part of their development. However, having the courage to reach out and knowing how to help others is a learned skill. For some, it comes more naturally, others need to practice it. Our Kids Helping Kids groups teach how to engage in peer support safely and comfortably
Q: FIA’s mission is ‘to create a safe place for young people and their caregivers to identify and share their stress, and to support each other compassionately’. We achieve this through our unique programming and TLC – can you talk more about that?
A: While many of us know TLC as Tender Loving Care, at FIA we know it to be TALK, LISTEN, and CONNECT. When one of our brilliant team members came up with this, we knew right away that it told the story of our KHKMS (kids helping kids manage stress) programs.
When we first meet group members, we explain the importance of having the courage to TALK about something challenging. Talking through a problem, what’s in our hearts, and on our minds can help us gain some clarity with a situation. We remind the kids that if they TALK about the challenge, then it no longer becomes theirs to solve on their own. A weight can be lifted from their shoulders. We also explain that at some point in their life a friend is going to come to them with a problem and we want them to feel prepared to be the best friend they can to be able to help and support their peers. The key to helping is to LISTEN. We explain listening happens not only with our ears but with our eyes. We ask the kids to practice listening with their whole body, facing their friend(s), making eye contact, and demonstrating that they have heard what was said by asking questions to be sure the whole story has been told and heard. When they can TALK and LISTEN with success, they can then CONNECT, sharing feelings of their own lived experiences that mirror or are similar to their friends. It is through this connection that our group members can see that they are not alone in their feelings. Once they have shared a problem and connected, they gain strength from one another knowing that they are feeling the same challenges.
Q: What is the role of the facilitator of the KHKMS Groups?
A: Our trained facilitators are essential in these groups. However, do not be confused, we are not there to provide advice or answer questions the students may have. Our role is to provide a safe, and brave space to allow the students to take control and direction of the group. Once we have established norms with the group, we gently guide them to a place where they are the ones supporting one another. While we model some of the learned skills, the students are the ones who introduce topics and help one another when they need it. The facilitators know that they are only there for a limited amount of time; we want our group members to learn how to ask for help from their peers. We also want them to know that they have it within them to face their challenges and to know that they are capable of reaching out for help when they need it.
Q: What are some stresses that young people face?
A: It is not easy being a teenager right now. There are many challenges that they face: peer pressure, loneliness, feeling overwhelmed with school-work, and family issues are just some of them. The COVID-19 pandemic is making it harder for them, especially isolation from their peers with enforced social distancing at a time when they would typically be turning to each other for support.
The pandemic has amplified inadequacies in mental health services as experts brace for rising rates of anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress in children and young people.
Q: Is the pandemic making it harder to reach kids to provide support?
A: Unfortunately, we cannot get into schools right now to help the kids as we would like. We have had some sessions online with great success and are expanding our virtual program offerings. We are open to ideas from our amazing young people as to how we can best help them now. If they would like to form a group with some friends, we have facilitators waiting to help them. We urge young people, or those supporting them to reach out to us, let us know how we can help with a KHKMS group online!
Q: Who else benefits from your groups?
COVID-19 has upended family life around the world. School closures, working remotely, physical distancing, it’s a lot to navigate for anyone, but especially for parents and caregivers.
CAMH states, “COVID-19 pandemic adversely affecting the mental health of women and people with children” and women, parents, and younger adults are more likely to feel anxious and depressed during COVID-19.
A: FIA is currently running a virtual parent and caregiver group, and launching groups for dads and grandparents this month. These groups are for people who are feeling overwhelmed with their parenting responsibilities, specifically during the COVID-19 pandemic. The loss of connecting with others including extended family members has been challenging for parents. These groups allow parents and caregivers to connect with others and gain strength in knowing that they are not alone in their feelings. We know that we have the skills to form these helpful groups so we want to reach as many people as possible who are struggling or feeling isolated and alone. FIA believes in the ethos, “it takes a village to raise a child” and knows that supporting parents and caregivers, ultimately supports the kids.
Q: What is your favourite part about these groups?
A: The joy that you see in people’s faces when they realize they are not alone. That connection is magical. Our facilitators feel so fortunate to be able to witness the transformation from being overwhelmed to the demonstration of the inner strength they possess. TLC works!
Q: How can people support FIA?
A: The best thing you could do for us is to spread the word that we are expanding our groups to reach out to adults as well as youth. If you know of a young person, parent, or caregiver who is struggling, encourage them to reach out, we would love to talk with them about how they can form a group of their own with 2 of our facilitators. We can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We have not been asking people to pay for the newly formed virtual groups, we do not want finances to be a barrier to access. If you would like to support one group or a whole series, please consider donating.
One group costs $150 and a whole series costs $1200. You can make this an anonymous gift or you can let us thank you by telling the members of the group that you sponsored their sessions and being recognized on our donor wall through the FIA website. Please know that your donation will be a great help to many people who are feeling overwhelmed right now.