Ten years ago, Wendy Kotilla started a program merging restorative justice and ecological restoration in the Comox Valley. Now, as Kotilla’s Youth and Ecological Restoration (YER) program celebrates its 10th anniversary, 250 youth have completed phase one of the program, and a further 24 have completed phase two.
“It feels really good,” Kotilla says of working with youth in the program. “I feel like I kind of helped them along their journey. I ran into a youth (after he completed the program) … and he said it changed his life — it was the start of him getting on a good path in his life — and that was just such an affirmation of the work that I’m doing.”
Youth, (aged 12 to 18), having trouble connecting with school, community and employment, can participate in phase one of the prog
ram. Kotilla works one-on-one doing ecological restoration activities with each participant for 20 hours. Some examples of activities include salmon enhancement, habitat restoration, watershed assessment and monitoring and community environmental education.
The final task in the program sees youth present to an organization of their choice, something Kotilla says was prompted by her experience with Toastmasters. Participants receive a letter of reference from Kotilla upon completion of the program.
Phase two sees two youth who have completed phase one work with Kotilla and a community member to build on skills gained in phase one, focusing on a specific project. The two youth lead a public tour of the project site before they complete phase two.
Kotilla notes the program began with about 50 per cent of youth participating as part of mandatory community service hours. But, now just 10 per cent participate as part of community service. “It’s become more of an early intervention thing, for getting youth on the right track, rather than when they’re already in trouble,” she says, adding participants generally warm to the program partway through. “They’re uncertain in the beginning lots of times and then by about halfway through they’re feeling a lot more comfortable working with me.”
Participants also work with various organizations, ranging from local groups like the Morrison Creek Streamkeepers, Mountainaire Avian Rescue Society and Comox Valley Project Watershed Society, to larger organizations like BC Hydro, and government agencies like the Ministry of Environment and Ministry of Transportation.
“The key thing is building relationships with people in the community and with the natural world,” continues Kotilla. “You bring the youth together with elders in the community and there is this role modelling going on, this mentoring, and it increases the youth’s view of our community.” Five goals of the program are building healthy community relationships; gaining valued work experience; improving ecological knowledge; increasing personal and social skills; and enhancing communication skills.
YER is funded by the Ministry of Children and Family Development. Participants are referred to the program, many by their school. Those who complete the program receive a $50 honourarium, excluding those who participate as part of mandatory community service hours.
Kotilla has a Restoration of Natural Systems diploma from University of Victoria, and Negotiation and Mediation certificates from the Justice Institute of BC.
Contact Wendy Kotilla at email@example.com or 250-336-8487.
YER anniversary celebration details
The Youth and Ecological Restoration program celebrates its 10th anniversary at 6 p.m. Wednesday, June 25 at Zocalo Café in Courtenay.
Tapas and cake will be served at 6 p.m., followed by a slideshow at 7 p.m. and presentations from two past youth participants, as well as long-time program supporter Doug Hillian, Ministry of Children and Families director of practise for the Central and North Island and Courtenay councillor.
Anyone who has been involved with YER is invited to attend.Donations will be accepted to help cover costs of the celebration.