Host Family Volunteer Information

Host Family Volunteer Information

Interested in helping two northern youth have life-changing experiences in southern Canada? Host Families play an essential role in the program by supporting participants day-to-day and including them in family life. Read below to find out more about what’s involved in becoming a Northern Youth Abroad Host Family.

The applications for becoming a 2018 Northern Youth Abroad Host Family are now closed. Please email Kira Zanyk Davey, Program Officer, at to be put on a contact list for 2019.

Who can be a Host Family?

NYA Host Families come from a variety of backgrounds and make-ups: from single individuals, to couples, to families with young children, older children or no children at all. They can live in any Canadian province, and ideally in a city or town that is neither too rural nor too large and overwhelming. NYA looks for hosts who have time to spend with the youth, are clear but not necessarily rigid in their expectations, and are patient with them during their adaptation to a ‘southern’ lifestyle. Host Families must be able to accommodate the two NYA Participants in their home by providing each of them with their own bed, although they can share a room with each other. All members of selected Host Families aged 18 and older must submit Criminal Record Checks including Vulnerable Sector Screening to NYA prior to hosting.

When would we be hosting?

For five weeks, from July 5th-August 9, 2018.

Who are Northern Youth Abroad’s Participants?

NYA Participants are youth aged 15 to 20 from Nunavut and the Northwest Territories looking to take part in an exciting and challenging experience that will present them with new opportunities. Each fall, NYA sends out an open call to youth to apply to the Canadian Program. Applications are available in high schools and a variety of community organizations. Committees of volunteers across both territories interview each applicant and select the participants. A number of ‘Alternates’ are also selected, who are essentially participants-in-waiting and get spots to travel when participants withdraw from the program. NYA selects youth using a wide range of criteria, aiming to offer opportunities to those who could benefit most from participating. We look for youth who may have limited previous travel experience, potential for growth and leadership capacity, and a desire to complete the NYA program components. This year, 200 youth applied to the 2018 Canadian Program competing for only 40 participant spots.

Once accepted to the program, participants identify a Mentor living in their community to help them with their winter assignments, which include exploring their skills and interests, setting up fundraising events, and volunteering in their communities. The assignments help participants identify their strengths and goals in preparation for the work and travel components of the program. In addition, each Participant is required to submit a Criminal Background Check and Medical Form prior to travel.

Why do the Participants get placed in pairs?

Each Host Family gets matched up with two Participants, who will be of the same gender and normally from the same territory. Pairing the youth helps build a support system for the Participants in which they have a buddy from the program to travel with and share their experience. It helps the youth feel more comfortable, confident, and build life-long friendships.

How will the youth spend their days?

The participants will volunteer 7 hours per day at a work placement in your community. Prior to the placement period, participants complete assignments that help them identify their work and career interests, which Staff then use to arrange suitable work placements. We always appreciate suggestions from Host Families of possible volunteering placements, but it is our job to set these up in advance of the placement. Each youth will be expected to volunteer 35 hours per week, with evenings and weekends free to get involved in local summer activities like sports, festivals, sightseeing, etc. Work placements offer participants the opportunity to acquire some basic skills and hands-on experience in a chosen field of interest. This experience will help the participants explore their own career aspirations and ideally inspire them to pursue the schooling, training, or apprenticeships necessary to reach their goals.

Participants will also have a Summer Assignment Pack to complete while staying with you. It is one of three assignment packs they complete during their ten-month involvement with NYA in which they earn a total of nine high school credits. Host parents should ask participants to see the assignment pack soon after their arrival and offer to help where they can, keeping in mind that it is the Participant’s responsibility to complete the work. Summer assignments include keeping a journal, writing a blog entry, budgeting, working towards their summer goal, filling out timesheets for work, interviewing community members, completing a scavenger hunt, and doing two presentations about their home communities. The participants work on preparing their presentations at home and at Orientation, but they may need your help picking a venue and inviting people to attend. The presentations can be done at your house for friends and neighbours, at their work placements, at a local event, etc.

What is Orientation & Re-Orientation?

Before traveling to stay with their Host Families, all participants fly to Ottawa and gather as a group in an outdoor camp setting for six days of Orientation. This is both a fun and busy time for staff and participants. Participants arrive excited and nervous about the experience ahead. Throughout the six days, the participants build friendships, develop new skills, and learn about strategies for coping with the challenges they may face while living away from home for the first time. Facilitators guide participants through sessions on goal-setting, culture and adaptation, job preparation, problem solving and conflict resolution, basic first aid, swim-to-survive training, communication and leadership, and health and safety. Participants also have the opportunity to do some fun activities in Ottawa such as meet with the Governor General at Rideau Hall and go to an Ottawa Champion’s baseball game.

Similarly, at the end of the five week placement with their Host Families, all participants travel back to Ottawa again for four days of Re-Orientation. Participants have the chance to debrief their summer experiences, reflect upon their personal growth, and share stories with each other. Facilitated sessions assist them in exploring how they can continue to develop their skills by getting involved in their home communities. Participants then fly home and continue their program involvement until the end of October with the completion of their fall assignments. These assignments include reflections, career-planning, long-term goal-setting, and presentations to their peers about their NYA experience.

What are our responsibilities as a Host Family?

As a Host Family, we ask that you help make the two youth feel comfortable by including them in your regular activities and allowing them to experience the same opportunities as other teenagers in your neighbourhood. Try to care for the youth as members of your family and not as guests – give them household responsibilities and structure, show them around your community, be open and honest with them, ask for their input, introduce them to other teenagers, and allow them time to adjust to their new surroundings. Host Families are responsible for providing meals for the Participants, as well as showing them how to take public transit to get to work. In rural areas with no public transportation, Host Families must be available to drive the participants, especially if biking or walking is not an option.

The most successful Host Families are those who set clear boundaries, but are also tolerant of cultural differences and receptive to the needs of teenagers. Host Families should keep in mind that our youth come from a variety of different cultural backgrounds and may behave in ways that are unfamiliar. There are stark differences between northern and southern cultures and some Host Families have been quite surprised about how much culture shock and homesickness Participants experience traveling within Canada.

 Host Families must support the Behaviour Agreement that all Participants are required to follow. One of these requirements is that Participants agree not to do drugs or consume alcohol at any time on the program even if they are of legal drinking age.

Above all, enjoy the experience! This is a wonderful opportunity for connection and cultural exchange, both for the Participants and your family. While in southern Canada, many previous NYA Participants have enjoyed taking part in weekends at the cottage, family reunions, going to concerts, live theatre, and even a trip or two to see nearby attractions. Host Families have also found it to be an enriching and rewarding opportunity to learn about northern cultures and lifestyles while providing life-changing experiences for the youth staying in their home.

What is the Host Family stipend?

This is a volunteering opportunity; however, NYA Host Families will receive a stipend of $300.00 per week for hosting the two participants ($150 per participant per week) to help offset some of the costs of room and board. Host Families will receive their stipend in a series of post-dated cheques – one for each week of hosting. Participants are each given a $40 weekly allowance from NYA. Allowance is for the discretionary use of each Participant to allow them buy souvenirs, treats, movie tickets, etc., and is not to cover living or work expenses. There are additional funds available for sports and recreation, as well as work placement expenses such as bus passes, clothing, and equipment. Should extraordinary expenses be encountered for living or work-related costs, the Host Family may request additional support from NYA.

What support can Host Families expect from NYA?

Host Families will receive a Handbook and information about their participants, their home communities, and cultures before the participants’ arrival. While hosting, NYA Staff will be available during regular office hours all summer (9am-9pm EST Monday-Thursday, 9am-5pm EST Friday). After hours, NYA’s phone lines will be forwarded to an on-call Staff person who can be reached in the case of an emergency. We encourage Host Families to maintain contact with us by email or phone so that any issues may be addressed and resolved quickly. Open communication is essential in creating a safe and enjoyable atmosphere for everyone involved. Additionally, two staff members will visit in-person at some point during the summer to check in with participants and Host Families and provide support where needed. If time allows, the staff member will also meet with the youths’ workplace supervisors.

What are the impacts of Northern Youth Abroad?

  • Earning nine high school credits for completing the Canadian Program and being on the path to graduating high school.
  • Significantly higher than average high school graduation rates among NYA Alumni.
  • Increased interest in attending post-secondary education.
  • Improved self-confidence and independence.
  • Increased leadership and team skills.
  • 150+ hours of volunteer experience per Participant and increased job skills and career awareness.
  • Individual support of youth by Mentor, Staff, Workplace Supervisor, Program Counsellor.
  • Increased awareness of one’s own strengths and goals.
  • Development of critical thinking and problem-solving skills, resilience and good decision making.
  • Encouragement of healthy lifestyle choices.
  • Exchange among youth from different Northern communities.
  • Strengthened cultural identity.
  • Sharing of cultures between Northern and Southern Canada.
  • Increased community engagement.