Connecting to make a difference

For 35 years, youth in Sarnia-Lambton have been getting help they need through Rebound

Carrie McEachran is executive director of Sarnia-Lambton Rebound.

Every organization has its origins story and for Sarnia-Lambton Rebound, the date to remember is 1984, when three individuals—Barry Symington, Dee Cox and Terry Fitzgerald—took the initiative to create what was then called a “diversion” program, designed to help keep youth out of the justice system, a second chance if you will that would, the founders believed, would generate dividends for decades to come.

While Barry Symington, now retired from his position as a police officer, remains on the board of directors at Rebound, the other two founders have since passed away.

The three were honoured, however, with plaques that the organization installed nearly two years ago in three of its rooms at its Dow Centre for Youth headquarters on Lorne Ave. in Sarnia.

Their first group meeting, in a neighbourhood high school, formed the foundation for an organization that today operates initiatives that are recognized province wide.

Still, the very early days weren’t necessarily without challenges. In fact, Symington recalls that first week when a group of kids went outside for a cigarette break and never came back.

Eventually, as the story goes, they did return and 35 years later, the organization is continuing to make the kind of difference that Carrie McEachran, Rebound’s executive director, says speaks well for the future.

“Rebound is an organization that supports youth ages 8 to 24 in all areas of their life,” she explains. “We teach them resiliency skills, empowerment, social and life skills, with programs that help youth in early intervention and prevention around drug and alcohol use.”

The programs, says McEachran, allow youth to practice new coping strategies that fit with real life.

“We offer a variety of programs and services designed to empower youth. From individual support to 10-week group programs to after school drop in sessions, youth can always expect to find a safe, caring and accepting space when they come to Rebound.”

Continuing to serve well means creating a healthy relationship with youth-focused volunteers, adds McEachran.

“That happens on many levels — from frontline coaching to building maintenance; we rely on volunteers to help youth succeed.”

Aside from the 19 programs the organization has developed and continues to run, many of them recognized provincially and even nationally, Rebound remains committed to honoring the voice of youth, which it does in part through a youth action committee that McEachran says “helps to shape and inform our mission and goals.”

That success has been contagious, with Rebound programs having been adopted in some nine different communities across Canada, among them Thunder Bay and Scarborough.

In fact, the organization has built a youth engagement model at the core of what drives its efforts to make a difference in the lives of Sarnia-Lambton youth.

“Certainly, times have changed,” says McEachran. “Today the trends are much different but you know, back then they were dealing with very similar things to what youth are experiencing today. For us, we’re evolving very rapidly here at Rebound, trying to keep up with what’s happening in the community, where youth are telling us what they need.”

And to be sure, youth are very clear about what they need to succeed in life, says McEachran.

Much of that comes down to the basic needs of life and then building on that to deal with issues that may not have existed in the early days—cyberbullying for example.

Ask McEachran and her team whether Rebound is winning the game and she’s quick to point out that the organization is committed to taking a proactive approach to helping today’s youth be as successful as they possibly can.

She’ll also tell you that there’s a continued sensitivity around the misguided idea that Rebound is “for the bad kids.”

“The fact is, there are no bad kids,” McEachran says. “There are lost kids and there are kids that just need the opportunities an organization like Rebound is committed to provide.”

Indeed, McEachran can tell at least one story, involving a current staff member—a program coordinator—who once had a run-in with the law and who now credits Rebound for changing his life.

“He went away to school, got the training to be a social worker and came back here to help us make a difference,” says McEachran. “We hear about those stories all the time and we tell those stories to the kids today that are using our programs.”

An interesting fact about Rebound is that its services are open to any youth in the area, a point made by Anita Minielly, the organization’s fund development manager who spoke to a service club recently.

“If you have children and within your network of people that are maybe interested or maybe just need some help learning some different things, how to work with bullying, maybe there’s some drug use that that you’re aware of, let them come, contact Rebound, and we can put them in touch with the right coordinator,” she said.

This story appeared originally in the September/October 2019 issue of Lambton Shield magazine.

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