There’s a new energy in the space above Agassiz-Harrison Community Services.
Apologies for the clutter are aplenty, but the main room of the new Youth Centre is taking shape quickly.
Visitors have written cheerful messages in different colors on a chalkboard wall and have also sketched in doodles.
That kind of interaction with the space reflects the emphasis of ownership a handful of youth workers talk about as they gather in the lobby of the recently moved and revamped centre.
“A youth friendly space would be one where everybody respects everybody else and everybody has a voice,” says Ericka Young, one of the new staff members at the facility. “That’s what we try to promote with the youth, that they can give their ideas to us and we can incorporate them into the space—they’ve had a lot of say in what we’ve done around here.”
Not long after Young talks about the integration of youth ideas, 17-year-old research coordinator Josiah Groenenboom walks up the long staircase to join the conversation.
His job is to check the pulse of the local youth community, surveying their wants and needs to help shape the services and programming offered at the centre.
“It’s a good place to work,” he says. “I like interacting with kids in the community, giving my input to the community services, to the youth centre on what kids want.”
His insight into the young demographic and his connections in the community make it easier for the group to respond to the youth voice.
“I’ll be able to do surveys on programs that we want to do or get feedback on the programs that we do,” Groenenboom says. “What we’re doing right, what we’re doing wrong, what people want us to do.”
The eager Groenenboom and another teen colleague are part of an increase in staff that the program has seen as a result of new funding from the Ministry of Children and Family Development.
The number of youth workers in the program has also seen an important boost, going from a mostly solo operation to a crew of four.
Youth outreach worker Mike Vanlaar is not only happy to have more help (he was that original employee) but he’s also excited about the extended hours and programming that will be available to the centre’s clients.
“Other agencies that work with youth will be invited to come in and present on what their focus is,” he says of some of the external workshops that will be promoted in advance.
And the youth workers become animated when talking about other engaging activities as well.
Vanlaar expects he will get a chance to cook with youth and help them learn about buying groceries, preparing ingredients and to do it all in a healthy way.
Young is looking forward to providing resources to build life skills and social skills.
“One of them that I’m working on is using humour for stress relief,” she says. “I’m hoping to put together a little improv troupe with the youth.”
And Anika Allan, another youth worker at the centre lists even more workshops they will offer: the effects of drugs and alcohol, creating boundaries in relationships, anger management, budgeting and resume building.
Vanlaar is even hoping to make learning about taxes interesting.
“We want it to be not like school, but just having fun and learning good skills and providing valuable tools,” he says.
The group also points to the board games lining the shelves and talks about other fun activities that are available unscheduled as part of the drop-in atmosphere of the facility.
Bobbi Jacob, executive director of community services wants kids to “just come hang out” in the space that’s available from after school until about 9 p.m. most nights.
“We rely on the schools to teach everything these days and that’s not fair to the schools,” she says. “They can’t provide everything.”
She adds that all of this has come about in a relatively short period of time—planning only began in mid-November.
It has come together quickly, created along with the vision of the local youth themselves.
Which for them in return will not only be a place to learn and have fun, but a place they can go to get information and help accessing other resources, if needed.
• The centre is now open but will host an open house on Feb. 24 for children, parents and anyone who is interested