Katimavik youth program returns to Nova Scotia

National organization seeks to turn young people into community-minded citizens

After a nearly decade-long hiatus, Katimavik is coming back to Halifax.

Founded in 1977, the organization aims to foster youth development and empowerment.

“We’ve always valued Halifax,” said Arielle Canning, project development officer for Katimavik. “It’s always been a great community for participants to go to and a very desirable place to experience.”

The Katimavik van visits Peggy’s Cove in this undated picture.   courtesy of Katimavik Canada

The national experience program is Katimavik’s most popular stream. The program is open to Canadians from ages 17-25 and lasts five months. Participants live and volunteer in two communities, moving to another Katimavik house at the halfway point.

The houses accommodate 11 participants and the team leader, who all live in a communal setting. Participants’ schedules are divided between volunteering, self-betterment, group education, house chores, and learning about truth and reconciliation.

Kim Clark (bottom left) poses with her Katimavik cohort during their military rotation in Esquimalt, B.C., in 1980.   courtesy of Kim Clark

Caitlyn Weir, who was in Katimavik from 2008-09, said the experience was “very formative.”

Weir spent one of her rotations in Summerside.

“I fell in love with the East Coast because of that winter in P.E.I.,” Weir said. She now lives in Mahone Bay, but lived in Halifax before that.

Kim Clark was a participant from 1979-80. Now residing in Kentville, Clark is certain that Katimavik returning to the region will be good for the community.

This north end Halifax house will host Katimavik’s Halifax cohorts in 2022,   Abby McLeod

The program has gone through waves of funding since its inception, according to their website, typically with increases in years under Liberal governments and cuts in years under the Conservatives.

The program lost all federal funding in 2012, but was able to restart in six locations in 2018.

Jake Astillero was in one of the last groups to go through the program in 2012. Originally from Saskatoon, his rotation in Moncton was his first taste of the Maritimes. He’s now an East Coaster.

“If I hadn’t done Katimavik, I wouldn’t be living in Halifax today,” Astillero said.

An increase in funding is allowing Katimavik to expand again in January. Halifax is one of six new cities that will host Katimavik in 2022. The others are Campbell River, B.C., Wetaskiwin, Alta., Brandon, Man., Sudbury, Ont., and Saguenay, Que.

Alan Swinamer, an alumnus from Dartmouth, took part in the program from 1984-85. He is happy to hear Katimavik is returning to Halifax.

“It’s something that exposes young people from across Canada to our great area,” Swinamer said.

With its return imminent, the program has put out a call for local organizations who need volunteers.

Caitlyn Weir serves a meal during a volunteer placement at the Salvation Army soup kitchen in Summerside, P.E.I., in 2009.   courtesy of Caitlyn Weir

In previous years, Katimavik’s Halifax house volunteered with and collected donations for Feed Nova Scotia, a local charity whose goal is to increase food security in the province.

Karen Theriault is the director of development and communications at Feed Nova Scotia. She is optimistic about the program’s potential impact in the region, and also what values it might impart on the participants.

“When a group like Katimavik … gets involved, it really helps to build on the strength of our community,” Theriault said.

She noted that youth involved in programs like Katimavik often “have a real strong commitment to social justice,” and as such, she hopes “to see youth use their voices and to join us, not only helping to provide food today, but to really inspire and challenge our political leaders.”

Kristine Windover was a Katimavik participant from 1999-2000 from Alberta. Windover now lives in Halifax and is eager to see the program return to her community.

Windover and Astillero now have careers in social work.

“Because of the volunteer work that you’re doing … I think it just encouraged that wanting to help people,” Windover said.

Abby McLeod

Abby McLeod

Abby is a reporter completing her Bachelor of Journalism at the University of King's College. Born on P.E.I. but raised in Ontario and educated at the University of Ottawa, she has returned to the East Coast to further her studies.

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