Youth Guidance Outreach Services’ electric van visits neighbourhoods to befriend youth-at-risk

SINGAPORE — Driving by where the dead lie to rest was a van driven by social workers, with youth-at-risk as passengers. They were looking out for gravestones of those who died at a young age, in the Lim Chu Kang cemetery area on one of their trips during the past three months. 

It may sound unusual, but Mr Wilson Tan said that such excursions helped him and his team to talk to youth-at-risk about their life goals. 

Mr Tan, 51, executive director of Youth Guidance Outreach Services (YGOS), said: “After a game of hide-and-seek, we look out for these gravestones… which sometimes gets the young people to think, and to talk to us about what they want to do to lead a fulfilling life.”

Mr Tan was speaking to TODAY on Monday (May 29) at YGOS Woodlands Centre on Woodlands Street 81, during the launch of the non-profit organisation’s outreach van and initiative named Mobile Outreach Support Team.

YGOS aims to help troubled youth through various programmes.

The electric van is part of YGOS’ outreach efforts and will visit “hot spots” where youth-at-risk tend to be — places in Jurong, Woodlands and Ang Mo Kio housing estates where young people have been spotted loitering. The team seeks to build friendships with them and keep them out of trouble.

This includes providing them with safe spaces, mentorship and guidance programmes, which range from giving them career guidance to informing them on mental wellness or on how to stop smoking and vaping.

YGOS said that after befriending these young people, they will identify those at risk of getting involved in vice activities or at risk of having mental health problems, then pointing them to or linking them with social services for their needs.

Social workers from YGOS will drive the van from 6pm to 10pm every Wednesday and Friday, with the aim to reach youth-at-risk at “two to three ‘hot spots’ each day”, Mr Tan said.

This schedule was determined through trials over the past three months, where YGOS was able to reach out to about 120 young people in the Jurong area. The places they visited were where the grassroots community have seen youth loitering in public.

The electric van is outfitted with a range of equipment and furnishings, including cushioned seating, a television monitor for playing games with a Nintendo Switch, mobile Wi-Fi, and two extendable canopies on either side.

These retractable shelters provide shade for an outdoor seating area when needed, where the youth and volunteers may relax on camping chairs while enjoying refreshments, and watch movies projected on a cloth screen draped across the van’s exterior. 

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