Carrick Connect: youth organization’s key message is “listen, encourage and support”

Some of the events hosted by Carrick Connect included the two-plate mentoring initiative and the Stones of Hope project. A group of young people also took part in classes with Forest Fitness NI.

Carrick Connect is a local non-profit organization dedicated to reaching out to youth ages 11-25.

First established in November 2014, the organization has a total of 25 volunteers, 11 of which are active.

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Like many community groups, over the past two years, their work has been affected by restrictions related to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Key among the services offered by Carrick Connect are mentoring programs.

Project coordinator Tracy McNickle explained, “Young people can be mentored weekly for as long as they need support. They are taught strategies and techniques to help them cope with anxiety, stress, or trauma and are encouraged to seek professional help or further counseling if needed.

“Our goal is to listen, let our young people have their say and help them understand the process of making the right decisions.

“Carrick Connect also offers a support line for youth and our community that has evolved with Covid as need has been identified.

“We listen, encourage, support and point to relevant services. It turned out to be very popular: sometimes up to 10 messages in four hours.”

Another initiative of the group was the Love/Hate project, which looks at all aspects of the Holocaust and culminates in a trip to Krakow to visit the concentration camps. “It was a very effective program, the young people were very moved and changed their thought process,” added Tracey.

“We also believe that if you know your history, you have a better understanding of how events in life can unfold.”

One of the group’s long-term programs is Railtastic, in which volunteers conduct outreach on the streets on weekends along the Larne Line, both at stations and in the surrounding areas.

The program aims to build positive relationships with youth by demonstrating an ongoing presence and approach.

Tracey added that it also helps discourage antisocial behavior and encourages young people to make better choices and think about the consequences of their actions. “Most of our mentorship comes from those who contact us on Sunday or who we follow after the weekend. We work with the support of security and NIR personnel.

“In past years, we have also launched Cartastic, which sees us bringing a large Chill cart to the Sea Gardens to help mitigate antisocial behavior, unite our community, and offer Saturday night fun and entertainment for free. However, this could not be launched due to Covid restrictions.”

During the pandemic, Carrick Connect has adapted all mentoring services and its support line using online resources to keep up to date and target young people.

Recognizing the massive impact of lockdown on the mental health of people in general, the group has also taken it upon themselves to put together wellness kits for young people and community members and deliver them to their doorstep.

“We have also been hard at work on our Stones of Hope project, encouraging our community to paint a stone that will one day be on display in Shaftesbury Park,” Tracey said. “Carrick Connect has collected stones from the doorstep of the house and they currently have over 400 stones in storage when this project is completed.”

As restrictions ease, Carrick Connect is enjoying a return to face-to-face work. “We have enjoyed reconnecting with all of our young people through mentoring and outreach, and look forward to our Love/Hate project team coming to Krakow. We enjoyed the evening when Forest Fitness NI connected with our youth,” added Tracey.

“We just moved to a new location at the Oakfield Community Center last year and look forward to hosting events from there in the future.

“We have a lot of new ideas and projects planned, and we hope that next year they will develop.”

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