Fledgling Non-Profit Seeks to Heal Kids through Art

By Kim Hughes 3/6/13 | www.samaritanmag.com

Kalista Zackhariyas experienced abuse as a child and says art saved her life. She founded Youth Code to help others.
If there is a subject grimmer than that of children suffering abuse and trauma, it’s children suffering abuse and trauma without receiving adequate treatment. But treatment can take many forms. That’s where a new non-profit organization hopes to implement its unique purview.

The newly minted Youth Code aims to bring arts and movement-based therapy to children recovering from abuse. Founded by Toronto-and-Mississauga-based actress, aspiring filmmaker and former marketing and design entrepreneur Kalista Zackhariyas, the Youth Code “believes that every child deserves to dream and enjoy a life beyond just surviving.”

Practically, that means offering boys and girls in recovery who may resist a verbal approach to therapy the chance to participate in arts and recreational programs such as music, drama, visual arts, dance, martial arts and sports, all of which are expensive.

“Children sometimes can’t talk about things, but they need to be able to express very complex emotions they are going through after trauma,” Zackhariyas, a mother of two, tells Samaritanmag. “These kinds of programs allow them to explore and gives some normalcy to their lives.”

So to raise cash for the initiative — and awareness about its mission — the Youth Code is holding its official launch and inaugural fundraiser Saturday, March 16 at Toronto’s One King West hotel/condo and event space. Tickets range from $70 for regular admission to $100 for VIP; there are also discount promo codes for teachers, students and groups of 10 or more at the org’s website.

“We’re launching which is why we need funding. And I believe that when you are asking for money, you need to be able to tell people exactly why,” Zackhariyas explains. “We are planning on being a national organization and we’re starting in Ontario.

“And while we’re trying to raise funds to launch our initiative, we are also trying to raise awareness in the community about what’s really needed by kids in shelters. I am not a clinical psychologist, but I have done years and years of research — and been through the system myself — and I know this is something that is urgently needed.

“The numbers associated with childhood trauma and abuse is staggering. It’s estimated that the cost of childhood abuse in Canada — on the judicial and social services system, health care system and so on – exceeds $15 billion annually.

“I really believe that arts and movement therapy will make a difference. Studies show those kids are more likely to get post-secondary education, less likely to commit suicide and are just far better rehabilitated.”

According to Zackhariyas, the Youth Code has recently partnered with Peel Children's Aid Foundation (which operates the Peel Children's Aid Society) and Women's Habitat to test and implement new pilot programs. With the former, it’s mostly about shoring up a funding gap.

“Currently of about 7,000 children in Peel region that they work with, they were able to spend only about $250 on 400 children on extra-circular recreational activities annually,” she says. “With Women’s Habitat we bring services to them but children are never forced to participate. They are invited to participate.

“Martial arts are an important component of the program because we want to be sure to include boys. We will be bringing instructors in but the programs are very tailored to arts and movement therapy even though it’s being done in a fun way with something like dance or theatre work.

“We have community partners that give us a heavily discounted preferred rate; what will be doing is covering their costs directly so there is no cost to the shelter.”

And while Zackhariyas won’t name community partners just yet (details are still being ironed out), she feels confident that the Youth Code has the infrastructure in place to thrive as a national organization; also that participation in the arts can saves lives as it did her own.

“The arts saved my life,” she confirms. “My mom, god bless her soul, was a source of trauma in my life. I was a ward of Children’s Aid from a very early age. When I was eventually given guardianship of myself, I was a teenager with no education and no money. And I have seen what the inside of shelters look like.

“I got married to a very abusive partner and again lost my home when I had to leave that situation at eight-and-a-half months pregnant. I have experienced trauma and I know how crucial healing is.

“I wish I was an anomaly,” Zackhariyas says, “but the sad truth is I am an everyday story. And that’s why there is a desperate need for something like the Youth Code.”

Air Jordan

* Samaritanmag.com is an online magazine covering the good deeds of individuals, charities and businesses.