Michelle Lewis serves as the Executive Director of the Young Carers Initiative (YCI), a not-for-profit agency with a mission to serve caregiving children, youth, young adults and their families in the regions of Niagara and Haldimand-Norfolk. Michelle has been with the organization since 2012 with a focus on thinking strategically around barriers caregiving families experience in order to support as many young carers as possible. Having been raised in Hagersville and now living in St. Catharines with her husband and two daughters, Michelle is grateful to work for an organization that serves her “two homes”.
The Powerhouse Project
In 2003, the Young Carers Initiative was created as a special project of the Alzheimer Society of the Niagara Region (ASNR). The ASNR provides support services for people with dementia and their families. During home visits to clients and their caregivers, the ASNR had noticed many children and youth taking on caregiving roles to help out the family. The ASNR identified 74 children and youth who lived with a parent, grandparent or other relative suffering from a progressive dementia, and it became clear that many of these children struggled with stress and anxiety, or other emotional problems. Building on the principle “Caregiving is a family event,” the ASNR decided to take action. After conducting research and discovering the young carer work being done in the UK, the ASNR brought the young carer concept to Canada and created a project including youth under 18 involved in any kind of caregiving situation, not just dementia care - and the Young Carers Initiative Niagara (YCIN) was born. Using Trillium Foundation funding, the YCIN recruited 17 community agencies, all with a common interest in helping children and youth in caregiving families. Activities over the three-year life-span of the network included conducting research into young carers in the Niagara Region, with results of the study published by Dr. Heather Chalmers, PhD from the Department of Child and Youth Studies at Brock University, St. Catharines informing next steps. The YCIN ended officially in 2006 when its two-year Trillium grant ran out. A determined group of individuals revived the project in 2007 as an independent registered charity – the Young Carers Initiative (YCI). With the support of Alzheimer’s Society of Brant Haldimand Norfolk Hamilton Halton, the YCI received funding from the HNHB LHIN’s “Aging at Home” strategy…which has supported the creation of the Powerhouse Project in August 2008, the first program in Canada to provide direct support to young carers. Today, Powerhouse Project provides therapeutic and life skills programming to children and youth ages 5 to 25 who are in a caregiving role due to having a family member with chronic illness, disability, mental illness, addictions or other factors such as a language barrier.