My Years With The Net

By: Lauren Pringle


In September of 2019, when I was just beginning 8th grade, I heard of a new youth program that was coming to Ancaster, called The Net Youth Empowerment Program. My sister had joined as a founding member, a month or two earlier, and as a volunteer performer for ACS events like Touch a Truck, I was absolutely interested in working in a more hands-on role at ACS. I first attended the launch event, and knew the program was something special. Just that night, I made friends, helped run the event, and got my first taste of real leadership in the community. From that moment, I was hooked.


Later that year, the pandemic hit, shortening my last year of elementary school, and cancelling my long-awaited graduation. To say I was disappointed, and felt a bit hopeless would be an understatement. Everything was uncertain, and we had to be completely isolated from all the activities and events we knew. Except, The Net. As COVID-19 progressed, The Net was a constant source of learning, relating, and experiencing, even though we had to be isolated to do so. We held weekly meetings to plan, and created so many opportunities for youth to go to virtual events, and gain their volunteer hours, even when they couldn’t leave their houses. During this time, I was able to grow my leadership skills, being asked to host meetings, organize, and execute events, and work alongside others who were older and more experienced than I was. This sent me into a trajectory that would change who I became once I went to high school. I would absolutely say that The Net was a safe and welcoming place, which allowed the mental health and wellness of countless youth, including myself to continue to flourish and develop, even through such a difficult time.


As things began to open up, and we were once again able to host events in-person, with distancing, we faced a new challenge of how to hold hybrid meetings, and make sure we had available events for those who were able to attend in-person, but also for those who couldn’t due to risk factors, or personal reservations. We also had to be sure to abide by mandates, and change our plans when the government, and ministry of health had new information to share. Despite all these challenges, The Net was able to succeed in all their endeavours and engage more youth than ever. It was at this time, that I was able to receive my first real leadership position within The Net, as we had decided to create co-leaders for each of our three committees: Social Media, Special Events, and Volunteering. I had been creating graphics for our instagram for some time, and I have always been interested in design and art, so I knew I wanted to become the co-leader for social media. I applied and was glad to receive the position, alongside an older volunteer. This new experience further allowed me to develop my communication and cooperative skills, as I helped run meetings within our committee, and took responsibility over our social pages, and how we presented ourselves to the community.


Eventually, after the older co-leader had graduated, I began running the Social Media committee alone, which was a great opportunity for me to take on a big role, and divide my time between my commitments, before I received another co-leader the next year, who just happened to be one of my closest friends. We had a lot of fun working together to create the media that was going on our social media pages, and we were excited to be sharing such a large role in this group we were so passionate about. This new pairing also came at a time in The Net, where COVID restrictions were mostly gone, masks were eliminated, and everyone was just getting back to their normal routines. The Net, once again, adapted to this change, and made most of our events accessible in-person, and during ideal times for the average student attending high school.


The next year, I had began feeling very comfortable with my role in Social Media, as I had been experienced, and it was now a part of normal routine. While this is a positive step, I also knew for my last year with The Net, I wanted to take a larger role in the program. When our leader at the time suggested making the first ever Co-Chairs of the program, I knew I wanted to apply. I was extremely excited when my application was successful, and me and my fellow chair began planning out the year, and working to acclimate new members of The Net.


Whilst my last year of high school was extremely busy and daunting, I worked hard to balance all of my commitments, including The Net. It was difficult, but far more than worth it, as I have loved spending my last 5 years within this program. It truly feels like a part of me. Since last year, it has also been a goal of mine to work even closer with the program, which is why I applied to the Summer Student Youth Worker position, which I am currently in now. It felt like the next step in my journey with The Net, as I wasn’t ready to leave just yet.


Overall, I dedicate many of my successes and leadership skills to The Net Youth Empowerment Program. Even during COVID-19, it allowed me to grow, learn, and experience things that would prepare me for my high school years. During my years in high school, I was in 12+ clubs, including Student Council, Prefect Council, and I even began a very successful drama club alongside two of my closest friends. At my graduation, I received distinctions, and at my school’s award banquet I also was recognized. While these things were provided by my school, I don’t know if I would have had the courage or extroversion to attempt these things without this program, and I encourage all who are unsure or nervous, to give it a try. It has truly been a wonderful journey, and I am so grateful to The Net for all it has offered over the years.