Michelle Lewis began her career as a Teacher and Instructional Coach in alternative education private schools for at-risk youth. This gave her a wealth of experience with meeting Ministry requirements and coaching others on compliance which opened the opportunity to provide consulting services for private schools in need of compliance and quality improvement . When the opportunity came to lead a grass-roots non-profit as the Executive Director, she met her calling. Growing up in a small, rural town, she experienced what little supports and awareness existed for children, youth and families in need. She is very grateful to be a part of such a unique organization – Young Caregivers Association – and to have a voice for the silent and vulnerable.
Young Caregivers Association (formerly knowns as 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.