A new non-profit in Okotoks is looking to create an inclusive space for youth to reconnect.

The True Colors Rainbow Alliance is a queer/straight alliance (QSA) promoting acceptance and unification between the community's youth.

Founder April Bouchard says the group's goal is to restore the connections that never fully came back in the transition back to normal after the pandemic.

"What we're really trying to accomplish is to bring back the grassroots connections of the youth in the community in the LGBTQ community and the greater community and have them learn how to communicate with each other, be a group, be together, and get along peacefully."

Being a mother herself, Bouchard has seen the lingering effect the pandemic has had on kids in a social sense.

"We got forced into digital so hard because there was no choice but now that's where they live. They don't have true connections with each other, I even notice it with my 11-year-old. They would rather text or speak in a videogame, and there's nothing wrong with that because that's the way the world has gone, but we really believe that those grassroots connections and face-to-face communication is really important and vital for healthy relationships."

At the same time, she wants to foster a space where LGBTQ youth can express themselves.

"When you're already struggling with something in terms of your identity when you have fear if your family is going to accept you, if your peers are going to accept you, it's just a really big thing to deal with and it comes with so many different feelings that can lead to depression."

They're launching an eight-week learning initiative called "Youth Unified" starting in May with educational presentations on communication and social skills. Each week has a different topic, including Boundaries in Relationships, Problem-Solving, and Effective Listening and Communication.

Bouchard describes it as a way for youths to learn about each other's thought processes, bridge gaps, and socialize.

"We'll feed them first because it's always good to learn things when you have a full belly, and then have the option for an hour afterwards for them to connect playing pool, or basketball, or darts, whatever they want to do."

She aims to create an environment without the fear of stigma where local youths can be social without feeling the need to repress any part of themselves.

"They need to be able to have people and support and resources to reach out to to be able to get through those hard times. They need the skills and the toolboxes to use in order to be able to advocate for themselves effectively and still be who they want to be."

Attendees will be able to sign up for the whole eight weeks or individual weeks.

They're currently running a chocolate-selling fundraiser for the program which ends this Sunday.

More information on the fundraiser and the True Colors Rainbow Alliance can be found on their Facebook page.