A university project for 2SLGBTQ+ youth helps students, families and the community

How a unique service for sexual and gender diverse children and youth strengthens families and impacts the community.

Members of the iSMSS Camp fYrefly Health team

Lucas was a high school student who was about to enter university. They came from a family who put immense pressure on them and, as a result, their mental health was in rapid decline. Lucas had also been struggling with their gender identity since their early teens. In order to cope, they were using cannabis and had developed substance-use psychosis from overuse.

Eventually Lucas was able to get connected to the Community, Health, Empowerment and Wellness (CHEW) Project. Once they were ready, CHEW staff were able to refer them to the Family Resilience Project (FRP).

The FRP is operated through the CHEW Project and the Fyrefly Institute for Gender and Sexual Diversity, formerly the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies & Services (iSMSS), in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta. The project offers free short-term counselling to sexual and gender diverse (2SLGBTQ+) children, youth, and their families. It is unique in that it provides free counselling services from registered professionals that are known and trusted within the 2SLGBTQ+ community.

Service users are better able to engage in healthy social activities and relationships and feel empowered to maneuver systems and structures in order to get themselves the additional services and support that they need. They also experience strengthened family relationships.

For Lucas, the FRP provided the strength, tools and purpose to start a new journey. They started having pride in their identity and learned to move beyond the pressure they often faced. CHEW was able to continue building on the foundation FRP created in order to empower Lucas and foster their hope for the future.

Through these supports, Lucas was able to move forward with their education and enroll at the University of Alberta. Eventually they were able to step away from using cannabis and got their own apartment as well as a part-time job. Their emotional and mental well-being was beyond resilient — it was thriving.

“FRP and CHEW made the difference for me,” says Lucas. “I can honestly say it saved my life. I am a different person now, and can finally say I am trans and proud of it!”

This service started by prioritizing services for U of A students and their families. In the past three years the project has expanded services to youth in the broader community. In 2021 the FRP reached youth in over 20 different cities and towns in Alberta through a combination of online and in-person sessions.

As Glynnis Lieb, executive director of the Fyrefly Institute, explains, “we recognized that there are additional difficult experiences that members of our community often have that can be a barrier from making it to university in the first place.”

The impact in the community has been felt by people like Brooke, whose story of recovery through resilience and reconnection was recently featured by the United Way.

Services through the FRP are available for residents of Alberta, including the University of Alberta community. If you or someone you know requires counselling please email the FRP at families@ualberta.ca.

The Family Resilience Program is a funded partner of the United Way of the Alberta Capital Region and one of several groups within our university community that the United Way benefits.

The U of A's annual United Way fundraising campaign is currently underway — consider giving today.