Wallington fighting for the Youth Centre

It’s a place that’s seen undeniable changes, but many will argue that throughout, it’s managed to remain standing through circumstantial quakes.

The Hay River Youth Centre has taken many incarnations since its establishment more than 16 years ago, and now those who helped to create the centre have visions of restoring it to its former glory.

But they’re looking for support.

Acting Chair of the Youth Centre board Glen Wellington said that years of uncertainty have caused the centre to suffer, functionally and financially.

It was at the Aug. 8 meeting of Town Council that Wallington came before council to petition them to be allowed to remain on the land, land that was being fit to sell.

It’s usually by evening that the Youth Centre comes alive, but this Thursday afternoon is different. Youth activity coordinators and around 20 kids from the Summer Heat program are creating a whole lot of happy ruckus within the aqua and primary colour painted walls.

On one side, kids who looked more sure of the rules than many adults played pool, while on the other side, more were hacking away at foosball, plunking piano keys, or playing a friendly game of Wii.

Wallington is wading through the ricochets of high decibels, describing the building, and traveling back in time.

“This is what it’s all about, but it’s nothing compared to the old days,” said Wallington.

“I can remember when there were 75-125 kids coming through here on any given night.”

Wallington established the Youth Centre when he first came to Hay River 16 years ago as a Pastor for the Baptist church.

At that Aug. 8 meeting, Wallington implored that council consider the possibility of allowing the Centre to set up a permanent home, where youth have already hang their ball caps for 16 years.

Some youth he said, that at times, have nowhere else to go.

“I was a troubled youth,” he said. “I came from a difficult background. If you can think it, it’s probably happened to me. That’s why this is so important.”

At the meeting Mayor Kelly Schofield expressed concern at not presenting equal offerings by asking one group to leave while allowing the other to stay.

The Hay River Soup Kitchen, which had been subleasing land from the Youth Centre were asked to move.

Schofield couldn’t be reached before this week’s issue of The Hub.

“My concern is asking one group to leave and allowing the other to stay,” he said at the meeting. “It doesn’t send a good message.”

“This council is definitely committed to the Youth Centre,” echoed Deputy Mayor Mike Maher, “We’re still committed to helping you find a permanent home. I just don’t think it’s that home.”

It’s been suggested to house the Youth Centre temporarily in the Don Stewart Recreation Centre until finding a permanent home in a residential area. Property on the outskirts of the downtown core are slim pickings.

Wallington is concerned that neither of these would be a good fit, and wouldn’t jive with one of the town’s original mandate for the centre, to draw youth from the downtown core.

“The whole future of the youth centre stands on this decision,” said Wallington. “I don’t think we have to convince the community that we’re needed, and I think if we can take this property, we can take the effect of the youth centre to a whole new level.”

Back at the outdoor skatepark stretch of the centre, Wallington describes his plans for a multi-use building that youth could call their own.

“It’s their building,” said Wallington pointing to the current structure.

“They need to continue to feel like it’s their building. I don’t understand why all of the sudden members of council are bent in getting us off that property. It’s been really hard to promote and support the youth centre without that stability and all we’re looking for is support.”

It’s this instability, Wallington said has also caused fluctuations in programming.

Now that the organization has charitable status they have more avenues for funding.

“But if we’re stuck in some back corner of Hay River,” said Wallington, “We’re not going to have the same effectiveness we’ve had in close proximity to the downtown core and to the schools.”

Manager of the Sport and Recreation division of Municipal and Community Affairs Melissa Wood said that her department provides operational funding out of a pool of $500,000 for the 30 youth centres that exist across the territory.

She said the program began in 2008, the funds are divvied up equally between centres who have their applications approved.

“Some of the challenges for youth centres in the north are operation funding,” said Wood. “A lot of programs are geared towards programming rather than operational funding. But many centres are struggling to keep their doors open because of the cost of heating and staffing, so this helps them to hire and retain staff and operate their buildings.”

It’s the end of the week, and Youth Centre Program Director Marissa Oteiza has stepped aside from her duty as supervisor for the Summer Heat program.

As young participants splash away in the Recreation Centre pool, Oteiza recalls growing with the Youth Centre, witnessing its evolution from her own childhood into adulthood.  She says that while the board wants to provide a place where youth from all backgrounds and ages can come to have a place to go she feels that the youth centre provides a necessary service for several of the youth in town.

“I think that the youth centre is one of the only places that they can go and find friendship, support, and a sense of community,” said Oteiza.

“We have a group of kids who are regulars. They come in all the time. They depend on that place. But I think the centre has potential to be more.”