Paige Van Praet aims to be a voice for local youth.
The 23-year-old has just been hand picked to join the Premier’s Council on Youth Opportunities — a group of young professionals and leaders who will advise Ontario’s Premier and Minister of Children and Youth Services on issues affecting young people.
“I was kind of shocked when I found out — this is such a prestigious, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Van Praet, a program co-ordinator at Sarnia-Lambton Rebound.
“It’s really cool because I believe I’m the first person from southwestern Ontario to sit on the council.”
Van Praet went through a lengthy application process before accepting the one-year appointment to the 25-member group. Comprised of 16 to 25-year olds, it will meet in Toronto and advise the government on youth programs and services. Members are also tasked with talking to youth in their home communities to give them a voice.
“It’s really about seeing things through a youth lens, and drawing on our experience in working with youth, and bringing what we see to the table,” said Van Praet, who attended Lambton College.
She believes her work with Rebound — an agency providing prevention and early intervention social-skill programs for youth — will be instrumental in the input she’ll bring to the table.
“I’m in the trenches with our youth and get to see first-hand their needs and challenges,” she said, pointing to issues like mental health, substance abuse, homelessness, and a lack of supports for older youth transitioning out of care.
“I also work with marginalized youth in rural areas in the county,” she said. “And I see a lot of barriers because of things like transportation and just a lack of knowledge of what services are available.”