Sept 10, 2022
The Expressions Program of the Arts builds connections and life-skills with the young
“We cannot separate the importance of a sense of belonging from our physical and mental health.The social ties that accompany a sense of belonging are a protective factor helping manage stress and other behavioral issues. When we feel we have support and are not alone, we are more resilient, often coping more effectively with difficult times in our lives. Coping well with hardships decreases the physical and mental effects of these situations” (Theisen, 2021).
Belonging means acceptance, inclusion and an identity as a member of a group or community.
Such a simple word for a huge concept. A sense of belonging is a human need, just like the need for food and shelter. Feeling that you belong is most important in seeing value in life and in coping with intensely painful emotions. After more than 40 years of working with traumatized
and disadvantaged young people we did not need medical research to understand the importance of belonging when it comes to healing, but it certainly is comforting to see clinical evidence to support our efforts. The University of Michigan also conducted a study in this area and found when people lack a sense of belonging, it is a strong predictor of depression and other mental health struggles (Brower, 2021).
All of that to say that belonging is a basic human need and it is one that many youth-in-care
struggle with as a result of their life circumstances. Their young lives have been filled with
trauma, insecure attachment, victimization, and ostracism which has damaged their self-esteem,
self-worth and belief that there is anywhere in this world where they will be accepted and fit in.
That is a narrative that we refuse to accept as we see the strength and resilience each one of the
young people possess and the Expressions Program of the Arts is one of our greatest tools to help them see this as well. For this reason, this year’s theme for the program is “Creating a Space to Belong”.
The facilitators that make up the Expressions Team guide and support the young people through creative processes that challenge them to focus on their strengths and the qualities that make them unique and special. No matter how withdrawn or reluctant they are when they come to our care, the highly skilled facilitators of this program seem to be able to connect with the youth and draw them into the program. Learning to play the guitar or juggle has the “cool factor” that seems to get them, and art and photography have universal appeal. For this reason, Expressions is often the first program youth will engage in when they come to the HomeBridge Community.
Once they give the program a try they see that the environment is supportive and free of
judgement. The facilitators lead them through activities that help them experience success and
find a sense of belonging and connectedness with the group. This is where change happens.
Identifying as a youth-in-care, or “group-home kid” as they are often labeled, does nothing to
improve the self-worth of these young people. After taking part in the program, however, many
proudly identify as a guitar player or photographer, for example. Group sessions also foster a
connection with not only the facilitators, but their fellow residents as well. This builds a sense of
belonging and slowly, but surely the young people realize they are not alone – they are accepted
and fit in.
“Belonging has been shown to have a significant impact on a range of factors associated with
well-being. These areas include life satisfaction, general well-being, clinical depression,
cognitive performance, academic outcomes, and physical health. Belonging is an important
aspect of psychological functioning.” (Allen & Bowles, 2012)
Increased self-esteem, a sense of belonging and engagement in extra-curricular activities are all
protective factors when it comes to reducing substance misuse and other risk-taking behaviours.
By helping the young people see their potential and worth, we will not only be boosting their
self-worth, but also setting them up with the necessary foundation to make healthy choices, move from simply surviving to thriving.
The Expressions program continues to offer Art Classes, Music Therapy, Circus Skills and
Photography. Sessions run from September through June throughout the entire HomeBridge
Community, including our on-site school program, Bridges for Learning. Art and Music
sessions take place twice weekly, rotating through all programs. Circus Skills will be offered
once a week for 10 week blocks and photography sessions will take place with youth who are
interested on a one-on-one basis.
“[Belonging] Highlights the importance of young people having opportunities to establish
trusting connections with others “especially kin group, family and peers”. It emphasizes the
importance of attachment, providing motivation for a young person to affiliate, form social
bonds, and learn that “I matter and am appreciated!” (Dr. Leon Fulcher, 2007).
Allen, K.A., & Bowles, T., (2012), “Belonging as a Guiding Principle”, Australian Journal of Education of Adolescents., Vol. 12, pp. 108-119
Brower, T, (2021), “Missing Your People: Why Belonging Is So Important and How To Create It”, Forbes
Fulcher, L, (2007), “Postcard from Saskatchewan”, CYC-Net online.
Theisen, A, (2021), “Is Having a Sense of Belonging Important?”, Mayo Clinic Health System.