Hay River’s town council made a motion last week to sell the lot on which the Hay River Community Youth Centre currently resides, opening up a debate about the future of the institution in the process.
“I know there’s been some tension between the board and council, but most of us would like to see that resolved,” Wes Dyck, as a representative of the centre’s board of directors, told council at a meeting last Tuesday.
He admitted the group has “not had a banner year,” and asked for a letter of support from the municipality in order to access about $15,000 worth of funding from the Department of Municipal and Community Services. After some deliberation, council did decide to draft the letter, so long as it was promised the funds would go toward programming and not to support the current building.
“The (operations and maintenance) is killing you,” said Coun. Mike Maher, noting that a previous council had sought to help the centre re-locate as it has with the soup kitchen.
The youth centre, which has been entirely volunteer-run for the last year, has been operating for six months without running water, something Dyck said he was only recently made aware of.
“We really appreciate the gals who have been working most of the winter in there without water,” said Dyck, adding that the potential $15,000 from MACA would not fix all the board’s problems, but would go a toward paying an employee, something the centre has lacked since May 2013.
When asked what long-term plans the board has, Dyck said that while he could not speak for the majority of the members, they are in negotiations with the Soaring Eagle Friendship Centre to partner and possibly rent space in order to deliver programming there.
“We would like to co-operate with the town as well,” he said, noting that the proposed changes to the Don Stewart Recreation Centre could open up some possibilities for a new location. “We can do a lot more together than we can apart.”
For his part, Mayor Andrew Cassidy said he supports the youth centre board and followed council’s direction in drafting the letter of support, saying the group has addressed council’s concerns.
He said the municipality was “definitely looking at a partnership,” with the board and noted there is precedent for the town helping a non-profit group re-locate.
“We definitely want a good working relationship,” he said.
Cassidy himself used to sit on the youth centre board before departing several years ago as a result of mounting commitments elsewhere.
Broader questions raised
The Hub contacted the youth centre’s last employee, Jocelyn Grant, who was the co-ordinator there for a year ending last May. She said that while the members of the board had good intentions, the follow-through had been lacking.
“The board met, they talked, and a few of them helped the centre along, but a not a whole lot was accomplished,” she said. “They are lovely people, but they are busy people. The board needed to be made up of members of the community with a vision for the centre, youth of the town who wanted a say in their place, not ministers who were squeezing in another meeting on their already bursting schedules.”
Now living in Alberta, Grant cited an inability to fundraise on a regular basis as one of the most pressing issues, adding that it was only when the threat of the lights being turned off came up that anything was done in earnest. During her tenure, the centre was open five and six nights a week and ran both programming and a drop-in service. Grant said, however, that even this was not enough.
“There isn’t enough for boys to do,” she said. “There are of course sports teams, which are excellent and well run … but not every boy wants to join a team. I am sure if you asked them on an average day, they are pretty bored with the normal things like going to the Rooster and going uptown. They want to do cool things.”
Grant said that while organizations like Lights On and Phab did amazing work, they did not reach all the kids out there just needing a safe place to hang out.
“Lots of people like the idea of a place for youth to hang out and hopefully have some great programming, but very, very, few people actually wanted to see it succeed,” she said.
“Unfortunately what I found while I was in Hay River was that the mission statement of HRCYC really appealed to people for all the wrong reasons. They saw it as a place where the ‘bad kids’ went to do whatever it was they think ‘bad kids’ do, but if anyone would have actually dared poke their head in the door, they would have seen a bunch of kids who are playing pool, or watching movies, working on art or chatting on Facebook.
“It is not a scary place. Everyone wants their community to shine, to be proud of where they live, but if everyone expects someone else to make this happens you are left with a dilapidated old building that no one wants to fund or improve.”