Bonnie Harkness, chief operating officer of 360kids, describes the organization and shares her experiences and impressions of young people in Markham and York Region.
Harkness has worked with youth for over thirty years and has been working with them in York Region for over twenty-four years, initially, at Youth Homes in Markham in 1996. Since referrals were coming from Richmond Hill, she became the director of Home Base Drop-in Centre in Richmond Hill. It is now known as Richmond Hill Youth Hub. She also served as the director of Big Brothers and Sisters in Durham before joining 360kids.
360kids is dedicated to the long-term success and well-being of low-risk to multi-barriered youth the latter of whom may be homeless or at risk of homelessness. To that end, they manage employment programs, house young people on a broad spectrum, provide family support and help to stabilize those with possible drug addiction or possible exploitation by human traffickers. Their motto is “Every kid matters. No kid is left behind.”
Harkness reflects on the youth today, “In the past, trade schools were there to help but when they were phased out, people who ought to have been placed there were channelled into academic streams. This created anxiety for them.” She explains that immersion in technology is also creating problems. Young people benefit most from healthy social interactions, but the technologies they use today stand in the way. Harkness adds that in addition to academic pressures and the negative influence of technology on social skills, youth are experiencing stress at home. She explains that further stress is added when middle-class families are getting by paycheque to paycheque.
One of her memorable experiences happened late at night at a bus stop in Newmarket. She had just finished work and recognized a man she remembered having helped twenty years ago. He hugged her and said, “I was thinking of you last week.” He told her about his life and success. Harkness reflects, “What we do today really matters to their future.”
Harkness relates that there is poverty in Markham. There are multigenerational families living together, and some youth in Markham are ending up on the streets. “Kids left on the street are preyed upon by drug dealers and pimps. That is our competition.” Since support services in the city are lacking, “360kids” partners with community centres to help young people access services.
As COO of 360kids, Harkness is resilient. She solves problems and overcomes obstacles to deliver the best service possible. She concludes, “Our backyard is their backyard. They have a right to live and be successful in their own communities.”
Story written by Andrew Fuyarchuk.