Kathleen Muir, youth services coordinator at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver. (photo from Kathleen Muir)
Chill Chat, a peer mentorship program that began a few years ago but seemed to disappear, has been reignited in Vancouver as a hub for youth programs in the community.
The program’s revitalization can partly be attributed to the new Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver youth services coordinator, Kathleen Muir, who has returned to her hometown of Vancouver after getting a degree in social work at the University of Calgary. She brings with her a wide rage of experience, including working in the areas of homelessness and addiction, and suicide prevention and intervention, as well as with disabilities organizations in Calgary and impoverished school districts in Barbados.
Chill Chat is “a peer-to-peer mentorship program” for Jewish youth aged 12 to 22, explained Muir in an interview with the Independent, “but it’s customized to needs and interests, so it really means that anyone who is interested, there is a place for them.”
She said, “You can go into it if you have a disability or if you don’t have a disability, you can go into it if you have any mental health concerns or if you don’t.”
Chill Chat is a three-tiered system, where the mentees are mainly in grades 8 and 9, but with some in grades 7 and 10, and the mentors are in Grade 10 and up.
“You have the grades 11 and 12 that are both going to give support and receive support from Hillel and [the Jewish Students Association at the University of British Columbia],” she said. “What’s really cool about that and something that I love is that it really makes it clear that you can receive help and also be able to give help and, just because you are receiving help doesn’t mean you don’t have the ability or expertise to give out help, too.”
About the role of Chill Chat in the Vancouver Jewish community, Muir said, “We are creating this huge network fabric for support that’s going to be across the board and, because Chill Chat is based on informal support of calling the person or meeting up with them, rather than [come,] sit down, workshop, go home. You have these groups of people who are able to call each other whatever time they need, who are able to provide support that a service that is 9-5 can’t provide.”
When Muir joined the JCC staff, Chill Chat was focusing more on supporting kids with disabilities, but she wanted to broaden that scope because, she said, “we’ve all been there and needed some kind of advice.”
And the program is now better supported itself. “We have so many different stakeholders who know about the program, who know how it’s run and who are highly invested in it, so it doesn’t just fall on to me,” said Muir.
Chill Chat has partnerships with a variety of organizations, such as the CIJA, CJPAC, JCC Maccabi, Festival HaRikud, the Duke of Edinburgh Award and Queerious. This allows the program to “really meet the needs that the participants want,” said Muir.
“If you have a kid that is already interested in athletics, then pairing up with a mentor and both of them working towards JCC Maccabi – they are working towards a common goals together,” she said by way of example.
The commitment for participants is that they communicate once a week in some way, in any form, “from Snapchat to a telegram,” and, once a month, mentors and mentees have to meet up face-to-face.
The meet-ups can be facilitated by the JCC, which hosts a Chill Chat Chill each month, where, said Muir, “we get together, we watch a movie, have a pizza party, go ice skating. Once a month we also have a Chill Chat Ed and we bring in educators to talk about what a mentoring relationship is like and how to support each other. We have an amazing partnership coming in November with CIJA and CJPAC, who are going to bring in people in the political world to do a world café and speak one-on-one with out mentors and mentees”
To take part in Chill Chat, teens and young adults can email Muir at [email protected], call her at 604-257-5111, ext. 308, or complete the form at thecalloutjcc.com/#!get-connected/c2022. There is a meet-and-greet picnic on Sept. 25, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., in the JCC Teen Lounge.
Zach Sagorin is a Vancouver freelance writer.