The ranks of Whistlers support service personnel have swelled by 13 with the launch of a peer educator program by Whistler Community Services Society and Mountain Community Health Alternatives.
The new scheme will see 13 trained youth between 19 and 29 years providing help and advice to other local young people, as an extension to work already carried out by Whistler youth outreach worker, Greg McDonnell. The group has been undergoing training since last November in areas such as drug and alcohol awareness, relationships, housing, hunger and healthy sexuality. The training reportedly enables them to advise on certain issues or alternatively re-direct youth to the relevant support service.
McDonnell says the peer support program adds another level of support to Whistlers existing community services. He acknowledges that the towns network of free newspapers and bulletin boards already highlight what services are out there but says reinforcing the message cannot hurt.
"Last summer for example that young guy was found dead in staff housing and who knows what he was going through before that happened," he said. "If we can avoid that kind of situation by educating people and helping people feel connected to the community then hopefully that sort of situation wont arise again."
The body of 28 year old Hitoshi Ono of Tokyo was discovered by Glacier Residence housing staff last summer. His death is believed to be linked to steroid use.
McDonnell says the peer educators will hang out at places where other young people hangout, such as on the mountains, in clubs and local homes. By having an ear to the ground, he hopes people in trouble that might otherwise slip through the system will get the help they need.
McDonnell denies that the extensive help support network in Whistler sets it apart from other communities.
"There are a lot of people in that younger age group here away from home for the first time who dont have much life experience, but if you pick up any Vancouver publication for example, you will see it is full of the same types of help services on offer."
In exchange for a minimum of five hours of volunteer work a week, peer counsellors receive perks such as mountain lift passes, Nesters Market food vouchers and conditional provincial government funding.
The group plans to host two workshops for youth this spring on possible topics such as safe sexuality and summer employment opportunities.