Resilience Research Centre



The emerging themes presented below are recognized as concepts independent of one another, and are preliminary as data analysis is ongoing at each site. The themes include: individual strengths, identity development, nurturing relationships, contributions to the community, resilience-promoting communities, social justice, respect for the environment, and cultural roots. These protective resources emerged as important to youths’ perceptions of their own healthy psychosocial development across each of the research sites. However, the ways in which each of these factors functioned in the lives of the participants were nuanced and bounded by each youth’s local developmental, economic, geographical, historical, socio-cultural and temporal situation.

Individual Strengths

Youth participants spoke of the importance of believing in one’s self, of having a positive outlook, of maintaining a sense of humour even in challenging situations (E.L. Cameron, et al., in press), and setting high aspirations for themselves. They commented on their ability to solve problems, to be innovative and to persevere despite their challenges.

Identity Development

In earlier work, team members found that across diverse contexts, nurturing a positive identity – however that may look or be theorized across cultures–is one of seven key “tensions” or “resolutions” critical to fostering youths’ positive psychosocial development (Ungar et al., 2007). In our current work, youth participants expressed that they were trying to come to an understanding of their place in the world as a way to make sense of their experiences of transition.

Nurturing Relationships

Participants reported that their relationships with other people, including family members, teachers, community mentors, and peers, played an important role in offering positive guidance and helping them deal with their problems.

Contributions to the Community

Youths’ relationships with others also provided them the opportunity to “give back” to their families and communities. For example, it was found that many of the youth were often required, or felt compelled during times of financial and psychological stress, to function as caregivers, financial contributors, and cultural brokers within their families. It may be that these instances of powerful contribution to their family’s welfare allow youth to access the emotional and physical resources they need to thrive in high risk environments. A caveat here is that the youth who seem to do particularly well with intensified responsibilities and expectations are those who perceive their contributions as helpful and valued by their families. It was also observed that when the participants were recipients of warm, nurturing and secure interchanges with their families and teachers, these young people responded by reproducing kind and encouraging encounters with their siblings, family friends, community members, and within their schools (see Cameron et al., 2009).

Resilience – Promoting Communities: Community Spaces, Structures and Material Resources

In addition to our conversations with youth, the use of visual methods allowed us to capture the health-promoting community structures and resources available to youth in different contexts. Basic instrumental needs, such as food, housing, clothing, and medical care were discussed by youth as vital to their resilience and well-being.

Youth also commented on aspects of their communities that they felt were negative, such as exposure to violence, gangs, poverty, drug addiction and alcoholism. They talked about aspects and amenities of their communities they felt could contribute to their resilience if only they were available, such as opportunities for age-appropriate work, meaningful rites of passage, perceived social equality, and recreation opportunities and structures.

Youth spoke of the importance of access to educational opportunities and learning resources, and noted that it was often the people in these systems, such as community mentors and teachers, who helped young people feel valued in their communities.

Social Justice

Many of the youth participants told us of their experiences of prejudice due to their race, social status, ethnicity, illness, gender, or because of preconceptions about the places where they live. The youth were very well spoken concerning their feelings of disenfranchisement. They told us powerful stories of how they planned to overcome these challenges, as well as how they had previously stood up for their rights, both individually and collectively. Youths’ stories of social justice point to the importance of power, control and self-efficacy in fostering their resilience.

Respect for the Environment

Many of the youth showed respect for nature, and expressed recognition of the intertwining of their well-being with a resilient and healthy environment. Some of the youth spoke of being most at peace when they were outside in nature. Others told of how they are actively working to protect the environment, and yet questioned whether their hard work would even have an impact.

Cultural Roots

The combined use of visual methods, reciprocity between youth and researchers, and reflective interviews brought to light a number of “hidden” or previously unrecognized protective resources related to youth’s cultural traditions and beliefs. Youth spoke of the many supportive things they received from their cultures, including a sense of belonging, a shared history, a set of values, spiritual identification, an ideology, and the opportunity to participate in meaningful activities. Work done thus far on the relationship between cultural adherence and resilience suggests that resilience-promoting cultural practices rely on adults to function as custodians of protective practices and values, and on youth to accept their roles as active co-custodians (Theron et al., 2009).


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Daniel Blais

Research Assistant

Daniel Blais is a research and evaluation associate with the Resilience Research Centre and Wisdom2Action network. With an interest in cultural sociology and a background in youth care and advocacy, Blais has an interest in program evaluation that applies mixed methods research and evidence-based practices. While completing the written requirement for an MA in Sociology (forthcoming) from York University on the topic of professionalization, Daniel has worked with the RRC-ETI and W2A on projects focusing on youth program evaluation, public policy development, opioid addictions, and youth resilience.

Chantale Comeau

Research Assistant

Chantale Comeau received a Bachelor of Arts with Honours in Criminology from Saint Mary’s University, and has completed a Master of Arts in Criminology & Sociolegal Studies at the University of Toronto set to graduate in November 2018. Chantale will be returning to school to pursue a Masters in Public Administration at Dalhousie University in efforts to obtain the skills necessary for a career in justice policy.

Igor Pekelny

Research Assistant

Igor Pekelny is a research associate at the Resilience Research Centre, Dalhousie University and the Sociology/Criminology Department, Saint Mary’s University, with experience in mixed methods project evaluation, online survey design and implementation, and crime prevention program design and management. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Criminology (Magna Cum Laude) and Psychology (Magna Cum Laude) and now pursuing his Master of Arts in Criminology, all from Saint Mary’s University.

Marlee Jordan

Research Assistant

Marlee Jordan has an academic background in Criminology; she received a BA (Honours) and MA from Saint Mary’s University with the majority of her work focusing on the forensic mental health population. Her MA thesis was written on experiences in supported housing of people found Not Criminally Responsible in Halifax, N.S. Her other research interests include community-based services for people with mental health issues, addictions, and criminal justice involvement; youth education internationally, and community development. She is currently focused on gaining experience in research and program evaluation, otherwise she can be found hiking with her dogs, reading, or planning her next big trip.

Rena Vanstone

Research Assistant

Rena Vanstone is a research assistant at the Resilience Research Centre. She is currently completing an Bachelor of Arts with Honours in Sociology at Dalhousie, with minors in Psychology and English. Her research interests include youth resilience and wellbeing, as well as arts-based methodology and interventions.

Brandon Mott

Communications Support

Brandon promotes content, shares stories, and facilitates conversation through audio visuals, event planning, and graphic design.  Brandon Mott is a communications specialist with a demonstrated history of working in the policy and research world, most notably at the Resilience Research Centre under the direction of Dr. Michael Ungar. Brandon is known for his knowledge sharing skills; crafting thoughts and ideas into digestible content. His degree in music marks a dedication to refining craft and an emphasized attention on creative detailing. This keen focus helps polish multimedia products, as seen in any of the numerous videos, reports, and websites he has produced.

Chase Kodejs

Communications Specialist

Chase combines his creativity and technical skills to produce digestible content for websites, social media and events, while adhering to Resilience Research Center’s brand strategy. Chase Kodejs is a communications specialist with a demonstrated history of facilitating projects in the private sector with numerous firms. A keen focus and desire to learn allows Chase to continue to be up to date with latest digital trends and deliver products that are refined for the end user.

Jan Höltge

Visiting Scholar

Jan Höltge is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Resilience Research Centre. Jan completed both his Bachelor in Psychology and Master in Environmental, Social and Clinical Psychology at the University of Vienna, Austria. He received his Ph.D. in Clinical and Positive Psychology at the University of Zurich, Switzerland. He has joined the Resilience Research Centre supported by the Early Postdoc.Mobility Scholarship granted by the Swiss National Science Foundation. Jan is passionately interested in how stressful circumstances can have positive effects on human life, especially resilience-enhancement, ranging from daily hassles to traumatic experiences. While taking a lifespan perspective, he has a focus on higher age, the long-term effects of early life stress and the positive effects of collective adversities on social values and behaviors. Additionally, he is interested in how the physical environment contributes to human resilience and wellbeing.

Haorui Wu

Research Fellow

Dr. Haorui Wu is Assistant Professor of Social Work and a research fellow in the Resilience Research Center at Dalhousie University.  His architecture-based interdisciplinary teaching, research, and emerging practice examine post-disaster reconstruction, recovery, and rehabilitation initiatives through the lens of environmental and social justice. He seeks to employ community-engaged planning and architectural strategies to strengthen built environment social missions, build social capital, enhance overall well-being, and advance community resilience in the context of global climate change, disaster, and other world crises. His research consists of (1) empowering local residents’ (especially the vulnerable and marginalized groups) leadership and supporting holistic well-being by advancing non-discriminatory civic engagement in community-based planning and architecture design; and (2) enhancing the humanitarian quality of post-disaster built environment to support community resilience and sustainability.

Paul McGuinness

Operations Manager

Paul McGuinness is the Operations Manager for the Resilience Research Centre (RRC). Paul has an extensive corporate background in Information Technology, Administration, Finance and Business Development. Paul provides leadership and operational management of the RRC and is a key interaction point between the RRC and internal and external grant and management programs. The Research Operations Manager works collaboratively with all university departments, building and maintaining strategic working relationships in the administration of internal schemes, as well as maintaining a network of external stakeholders to support national and international competitive and contract research opportunities.

Kathleen Murphy

Project Manager (RYSE)

Kathleen is the Project Manager for the RYSE Project based at the Resilience Research Centre. Kathleen has a diverse array of research, programmatic, policy, and project management experience, having worked in the area of positive parenting interventions, youth mental health, artificial intelligence and health, and Indigenous health research. She has a Biology degree from St. Francis Xavier University, and received her Master of Public Health at the University of Toronto, specializing in health promotion and public health policy. Her work has been local, national, and international in scope.

Simone Chia-Kangata

Project Manager (CYRRC)

Simone Chia-Kangata joined the CYRRC as Project Manager in May 2017. Simone brings expertise in research and evaluation, project design, implementation and management, business management, knowledge mobilization and marketing. Simone has a Master’s degree in Public Policy and Public Administration from Concordia University and a Bachelor’s degree in International Development Studies from McGill University. She has worked in the public sector and NGO sector in Ottawa, the UK, Kenya, Somaliland and Nova Scotia.

Sara Al-Gashm

Evaluation Manager

Sara Al-Gashm manages evaluation projects at the Resilience Research Centre at a national and international level, which integrate both quantitative and quasi-experimental pre and post-test methodology as well as qualitative methods. She brings interdisciplinary and cross-national training and experience to her position, along with an extensive research background in health and wellbeing across the lifespan. Sara received a Master’s degree in Global Health from McMaster University and a Bachelor’s degree in International Development Studies from Dalhousie University. She was granted the title of Leading First-Class Honours Student and is the recipient of the University Silver Medal from Dalhousie University. Sara holds publications in The Lancet and the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. She is fluent in three languages: English, Arabic and Tagalog. Her interests include monitoring and evaluation, results-based management, participatory research methods, and qualitative research.

Michael Ungar


Michael Ungar, Ph.D. is the founder and Director of the Resilience Research Centre at Dalhousie University. His ground-breaking work as a family therapist and resilience researcher is recognized around the world, with much of that work focused on the resilience of marginalized children and families, and adult populations experiencing mental health challenges at home and in the workplace. Dr. Ungar has provided consultation and training to Fortune 500 companies like Unilever and Cigna, NGOs such as Save The Children and the Red Cross, and educational institutions and government agencies on five continents. He is routinely called upon by thought leaders such as the Boston Consulting Group and Canvas8. His work emphasizes how to use the theory of resilience to increase both individual and institutional agility during crises, with numerous organizations having adopted his concept of resilience as a negotiated process that enhances wellbeing and social responsibility.

Dr. Ungar is the author of 16 books for lay and professional audiences, and over 200 peer-reviewed papers and book chapters. These include Change Your World: The Science of Resilience and the True Path to Success, a book for adults experiencing stress at work and at home, and I Still Love You: Nine Things Trouble Teens Need from their Parents. His blog, Nurturing Resilience, can be read on Psychology Today’s website.

Philip Jefferies

Research Fellow

Dr. Philip Jefferies is a research fellow at the Resilience Research Centre. Following his PhD and teaching/research posts in the UK, Ireland, and Fiji, Phil joined the Centre to support the RYSE project. He now conducts resilience research with challenged populations around the world to understand how some do well despite adversity, and helped to develop the Centre’s evidence-based resilience building intervention ‘R2’, which is now used by organisations worldwide.