WEST CARLETON – Sozanne Abdillahi is getting to know West Carleton by connecting with the community’s youth.

Abdillahi is the Western Ottawa Community Centre’s (WOCRC) new rural child and youth counsellor. One of her biggest roles is hosting The Zone, a weekly youth drop-in centre for those aged 12 to 18.

The Zone is a unique space for youth to meet new people and try new activities. Youth and their families can get connected to community resources and services. The program, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, is currently running online in West Carleton on Wednesdays from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m.

As the moderator of The Zone Abdillahi, who hails from Orleans, is getting to know the community and the youth that live there and the issues they face.

“It’s a safe space for youth from West Carleton to connect with each other,” Abdillahi told West Carleton Online last Monday (Feb. 22) in a manner befitting the times and The Zone – through a Zoom meeting. “Nowadays, specifically with conversations I’ve had with youth, people are feeling disconnected. It’s been interesting learning about the West Carleton community.”

As the rural child and youth counsellor, Abdillahi’s role is to facilitate and organize programs for the youth of West Carleton.

Along with hosting The Zone, Abdillahi is working on a five-week art program for youth to get involved in in the near future (we’ll share more information on that, also in the near future).

“There was a gap in services,” Abdillahi said. “I want the West Carleton youth to know there are programs accessible and available.”

Abdillahi has several years experience working with youth in both a shelter and school setting. She graduated from school with a bachelor’s degree in child, youth and women studies.

“It’s definitely helped me build the skills for working with youth,” she said.

The Zone is not a new program, but the format is new and is, like all other gatherings of people, held online.

“It was difficult for youth to adapt at first,” Abdillahi said. “It was an adjustment. Kids go in to a shell and are a bit more shy. All it takes is some encouragement. I make sure to engage everyone. Everyone has a voice.”

Abdillahi created a video to introduce herself to West Carleton youth, as she’s both new to the job and new to the community.

“It’s going well,” she said. “I’m coming up with different activities and encouraging them to engage more and letting them know, hey, I’m doing my best here to get activities and make you comfortable.”

Abdillahi says the youth she’s meeting are starting to open up more on issues such as social confidence, self-care, anxiety, school and stress to name a few. COVID-19 has had an obvious impact.

“They’ve been struggling in terms of their social life,” Abdillahi said. “They’re not surrounded by their friends like they were used to. They aren’t participating in their activities. We’re trying to build that social life back up for them.”

And Abdillahi hopes to be able to do these things in person in the near future.

“I haven’t been able to visit the community in person yet,” she said. “It’s been a challenge meeting everyone online. But you get used to it. I’m looking very forward to visiting the community in person.”

Abdillahi says there is still room for new participants at The Zone and if you are interested in that program or contacting the WOCRC rural child and youth counsellor, you can email Abdillahi at youth@wocrc.ca.