Phoenix emphasizing its youth services

Rebranding process aims to shift perception that youth organization only helps homeless kids

Young people in the Grand Parade.   Sara Ericsson

A local youth organization is aiming to shift public perception by emphasizing its youth support services.

Phoenix is a community-based organization seeking to help youth facing challenges and stresses. The organization’s new tagline is ‘because youth matter,’ which seeks to emphasize that each youth has potential.

Melanie Sturk, the communications director at Phoenix, says the rebranding process began after a group of youth that participate in Phoenix’s community program felt they were being branded homeless by associating with the organization.

She says, “These were kids that weren’t homeless, and didn’t feel at risk of becoming homeless. So it’s problematic for us, and we wanted to see a change.”

Sturk says Phoenix is “looking at who we are versus the public’s perception of us.”

Phoenix works to identify challenges and stresses young people face before they become larger, more serious issues. The organization helps around 1200 youths annually.

The organization currently employs 90 staff and works with nearly 250 volunteers. Their operating budget is $4 million annually.

Use of language: helping youth and their families

The comments by the young people prompted a larger look into the organization and the language it was using to promote its services and programs.

Phoenix then worked with bits.co, a local digital marketing firm, to better communicate and create awareness around what the organization has to offer.

The goal, according to Sturk, is not to take away from the shelter services they provide to homeless youth, but to foster a wider awareness that Phoenix also provides a wide array of other services.

Sturk hopes the rebranding process will help to encourage more youth to seek help. She says many youth find it difficult to admit they have problems that begin as emotional issues, which are often considered non-serious.

“We have youth that didn’t even know they needed support. So maybe through a friend or just through an experience that escalated they realized ‘I actually do need to reach out,’” she says.

The rebranding process is also looking to address Phoenix’s role in helping families.

Fiona McAdam, a clinical therapist who works in the prevention program at Phoenix, says the organization starts with youth, and then grows to include family members and/or close friends.

“You can’t work with youth in isolation of surroundings, so families are important to us,” she says.

McAdam says getting through adolescent years is a challenge for everyone, and that she is trying to normalize the process of youths asking for help.

She stresses that the problem doesn’t have to be something huge – it could simply be something that is beginning to cause tension.

“Things come up in life that are challenging, and it’s the most normal thing in the whole world for youth, families and communities to reach out,” she says.

‘We don’t act as a judge or jury:’ McAdam

Family of various forms are included in therapy sessions. McAdam says it’s about how the youth defines their family, but that having at least one significant healthy adult involved in the process is essential to success.

“We don’t act as a judge or jury. We’re working with the family, and we don’t put ourselves in a position of deciding who the good guys and the bad guys are,” she says.

McAdam says systemic and cultural discriminations are the biggest challenges staff at Phoenix face when trying to help youth.

“The assumptions people make about youth and families, especially when they’re struggling, are unfair and undeserved.”

The rebranding process will also include a new social media strategy, set to take off in June, and a crowd-funding initiative to raise money for the organization.