LEGO Mindstorm a building block for success


New spin on a 65-year-old toy to help Langley middle school students succeed

LANGLEY, B.C.—While it’s often teenagers who attract attention to their distraught outbursts, Youth Unlimited and HD Stafford Middle School have long known what studies show—it’s the pre-teen years where intervention is both possible and critical. That’s why they‘ve partnered to turned their attention to a surprising ally in helping those young people—LEGO.  Puzzled? Think less interlocking plastic bricks, and think more innovative robotics.

In a 2011 United Way study, researched showed that as disengaged kids aged 9 to 12 moved from middle school to high school, they report a troubling decrease in self-confidence, self-worth, optimism, empathy and satisfaction with life. If left unchecked, this exacerbates as children move into adolescence.

“However,“ says Danny Ferguson, youth worker and director of Youth Unlimited in Langley, “the study also shows that children who engaged in afterschool-structured activities scored significantly higher across almost all dimensions of psychological and social well-being than their non-involved counter-parts. That’s the kind of outcome you get behind. And that’s exactly what the Langley community is starting to do.

It was this understanding that prompted Stafford school officials to push for additional school activities for students to fill the gap in time between the end of the school day and when they go home. Input from BCIT practicum students suggested the launch of an afterschool LEGO club, but the resources and man-power to launch it, felt like an unattainable dream.

Stafford Vice Principle Iha Hayer reached out to Youth Unlimited outreach workers for project support. For Youth Unlimited, whose ethos is to create long-term, sustainable initiatives that both meet community needs and align with outreach workers’ passion, involvement was a no-brainer.

“We saw this project as a really smart investment in our kids,” says Ferguson. “LEGO has a way of igniting imagination and developing community—two ingredients we definitely want to see more of in local youth. LEGO Mindstorms takes it to a whole new level.”

The project is based on the First LEGO League curriculum which uses LEGO Mindstorm, a series of kits with software and hardware to create customizable and programmable robots.  Projects like this enable youth to research engineering projects, such as environmental sustainability, then build working systems to address these issues.

Through the power of social media, Youth Unlimited jumped the initial funding hurdle, and after six hours of broadcast, Kitchening and Co stepped up as a program sponsor, and the program was a “go.”

“It’s the definition of community partnership,” says Ferguson. “Stafford provides the space, BCIT students teach robotics, the shop teacher volunteers his time and a local business provides the start-up funds. We couldn’t be more thrilled to coordinate and provide the youth workers.”

While research affirmed project relevance was high, expectations for student turn-out was temperate.

“We were expecting 10-20 students to be interested,” explains Ferguson, “But as it turns out we have our 12 kids, and there are over 100 on the waitlist.”

The initiative launches today and will continue through the end of the school year. The hope of Youth Unlimited, HD Stafford and the community partners is to relaunch the full-fledged project in September to meet the demand. Ferguson says an additional $1,000 would create space for 30-40 more youth. He dreams of sending kids to provincial LEGO competitions and LEGO land in California.

“I would love to find the funds to send Langley youth to next year’s competition,” he says. “This project really feels like just a beginning of what’s possible.”

Posted on May 31, 2016

Cityfest: Largest Youth Event in Lower Mainland

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Rounding out BC Youth Week CityFest is the largest youth event in the Lower Mainland. It is for youth, by youth to celebrate Youth Week. Now in its 14th year, the CityFest attracts 3,000-5,000 attendees of all ages with its performing artists, visual arts display, fashion, food, and of course the largest skate competition in Metro Vancouver.


When            Saturday, May 7, 2016; From 11:00AM to 4:00PM

Where          Centennial Theatre Parking Lot & Skate Park

Why              It’s a fun, interactive celebration that builds strong connections between young people and their communities and profiles the issues, accomplishments and diversity of youth.


Partnerships + History 

Cityfest is a shining example of what can happen when diverse groups partner.  Cityfest started in 2002 with a collaboration between Youth Unlimited, the City of North Vancouver and North Shore Alliance church. The City had just invested $500,000 to create Centennial Skate Park for the community, something that the skate community desperately needed. Mark Koop a North Shore youth worker with Youth Unlimited, and Dave Sattler a North Shore Alliance pastor wanted to throw a youth skate jam in the park to celebrate this important milestone and to thank the City for listening to and meeting the community’s needs. The three groups coordinated their efforts and Cityfest was born—an annual event not only for youth, but by youth as they are supported teens to take on leadership roles in planning the event. Today CityFest has grown from a BBQ in the park to a Citywide event for thousands, while celebrating youth.


Key Attractions   

Food booth – Free food for youth 24 and under

Music + dance showcase

Skateboard competition

Longboard competition

Fashion show

Film Contest

Youth art display


Main partners

The City of North Vancouver, Youth Unlimited and Northshore Alliance Church


Key Stats

Student Ambassadors: 30+

Community Partners: 30+

Youth Event Volunteers: 150+

Student Artists, Musicians and Performers: 150+

Skate and Longboarders: 200+

Event Attendees: 4,000+

Percentage of crowd that is 10-24: 75%


Visuals: click HERE for a photo album from the action! 


Posted on May 7, 2016

Youth Week Highlight: Former at-risk teen now an eastside Youth Worker giving back through Vancouver’s only mobile Youth Centre



Vancouver, BC—The cycle of mentorship and support for at-risk youth comes full circle in Jason Hradoway. Once a teenager heading down a dangerous path, Jason’s connection with Youth Unlimited led him to do a complete 180. Today, Jason works with East Vancouver’s most marginalized and struggling youth through the Youth Unlimited Street Life program.


Through Street Life, Jason and his small team run the only mobile youth center in Vancouver. This renovated 25-foot RV provides a safe place for youth where there a sense of belonging and home and a connection to caring adults. Practically, youth receive a hot meal, and, when available, clean clothes, blankets and toiletries.


“When I was in grade 10, I was in desperate need of mentorship,” says Hradoway, who first encountered Youth Unlimited in his hometown in Edmonton. “I had a poor relationship with my family, a lot of angst, and I started hanging out with a group of kids that were destructive.  Inside, I was in conflict. I was drawn to the activism of the punk rock scene, which I think was a positive draw, but so much else was not. Even at that age, I knew that deep down I did actual want to help make the world a better place, but my life was not heading down that path, and I just didn’t believe anything better for myself.”


In that same year, through his music class, Jason met James, a Youth Unlimited youth worker who shared Jason’s passion for music, but who was also a stabilizing force.

“He could see that I desperately needed mentorship and someone to believe in me,” says Jason. “He was crazy enough see past the punk rock exterior to my heart. He didn’t try to change me. Instead he invited me to come help him serve other people in the inner city.”

Jason did, and when his punk rock friends started dropping out of school, he knew he was at cross-roads: did he stick with his friends, or follow the risky tug on his heart to build a different life? With Jason pouring into his life, the latter felt possible.

“In grade 12 I realized it only took one person in my life to radically change it for the better,” he says. “It wasn’t long before I realized I wanted to have an impact on struggling kids like James did for me.”


Jason came to Vancouver in 2010, trained at Lifeteams—Youth Unlimited’s year-long urban youth worker program—and worked in the Edmonton branch of Youth Unlimited before returning to East Vancouver in the fall of 2015 to help run Street Life.

Today, in a city where street-involved kids are transient, and the real estate is unbelievable, the mobile drop-in’s innovation has proven to be invaluable. The RV runs two nights a week outside Britannia Community Centre, and off Commercial Drive. During the week, dedicated staff meet regularly with youth to provide practical and emotional support, mentorship and referrals.



The program that runs on a shoestring budget is in desperate need of financial support. The lease for the RV is up in May (an extension from the April deadline), and the buy-out is $11,500. At the last week of April, the RV’s generator died, adding another $4,000 expense. The two staff and band of extremely dedicated volunteers who run the program are hoping the community will help support it through their GoFundMe campaign:; the first $5,000 donated will be generously matched by Fraserway RV in Abbotsford.  For more:

Posted on May 2, 2016