SUNDRE — Following many months of preparations, the new youth centre’s doors officially opened this weekend.
Located in the strip mall immediately north of the Main Avenue and Centre Street traffic lights on the west side of the road in the space of the former Centre Street Video, The Den was on Saturday, Oct. 16 unveiled and introduced to the community during an informal grand opening.
As a result of public health measures, there were no snacks or refreshments served while the mask mandate and one-third capacity in the building was observed.
But residents still had an opportunity to get some information and see the result of the labour invested by volunteers who worked with the Greenwood Neighbourhood Place Society on the project, which was identified by a needs assessment survey.
“There’s been a ton of work into it,” said Russ Klassen, the youth centre’s coordinator.
“It looks really awesome. It doesn’t look like your average youth centre,” Klassen said, describing The Den as “very classy — almost like an upscale type of place, which is kind of what we wanted to do.”
The goal, he explained, was to gear the centre more toward high school-aged individuals. But The Den will also cater and hopefully appeal to the younger, junior high school demographic, he added.
Among some of the featured highlights that are anticipated to entice youth to gather after school and in the evenings are foosball, air hockey, and ping-pong tables as well as a couple of video games complemented by a little cafe and cozy furnishings, he said.
“It’s come together ridiculously well.”
There are about 500 area youths in grades 7 to 12 — the targeted age range — and organizers are endeavouring to ensure the programs and activities that will be delivered offer something of interest to all of them, he said.
While there will often be opportunities for random drop-ins, Klassen said there will also sometimes be activities and events specifically catering to either junior or senior high aged youth.
Although the centre will offer a place for adolescents to unwind and socialize with their peers, it will also serve as a space for after-school work with the occasional homework block so students can focus on their studies. During that period of time, quieter music will be playing, with the possibility of having tutors present, he said.
Other program options will include a board game night.
“We’ve got some interested people, they just love board games. And board games are making a real comeback,” he said. “It’s going to be a place where people can learn some of these more complex games.”
Ever since Klassen moved to Sundre a little more than five years ago, serving in this capacity has been on his mind and he expressed enthusiasm for the opportunity to work under the banner of GNP.
“I love how much of a community organization and how community oriented they are, and without any kind of biases. Their goal is just to help the community,” he said.
Working full-time as an in-home technician for Shaw, Klassen said he also has past experience working with young people.
“A big part of me has missed working with young people and just helping them succeed,” he said. “This is my side passion…I just love the energy that I get from them and the fun that they have.”
Klassen also considers a privilege being able to provide guidance for young people during an important and formative period of their lives. Sometimes, he said, they need someone other than their parents for advice or just to talk to.
“I enjoy being a person of trust in their life,” he said.
But being a role model or mentor is a major commitment, one he had to make sure he was ready to take on before accepting GNP’s offer to become coordinator.
“Those are roles that I don’t take lightly,” he said, recognizing his position as one of trust.
“There’s a lot of time and trust that needs to be built up before we can claim some of those titles,” he said, expressing confidence that will happen.
The youth centre’s centralized location downtown — close enough to walk to from school and in the heart of the business community — is ideal, he said, adding there’s been a deliberate effort to build relationship with neighbours.
“We want to prove it to ourselves, we want to prove it to the neighbourhood, that this is sustainable. We want to prove it to the young people,” he said.
With a maximum occupancy of 48 people, The Den also offers ample space to get started. Although Klassen hopes to eventually outgrow the location, he said the focus will for now exclusively be to foster an atmosphere that appeals to youth. And should that success eventually lead to needing a larger venue, organizers will cross that bridge when they get there.
The decisions taken to date have also been made with input from a youth advisory committee comprised of roughly half a dozen adolescents.
“We want the youth to have a huge part in the direction of this whole thing,” said Klassen, who looks forward to seeing leadership skills shine through over the months and years to come.
“I’m really excitedly curious to see what kinds of things will organically come together.”
While The Den might be a youth centre, Klassen said organizers want it to be a community project as well.
“We want there to be a space for everybody to be involved,” he said.
That could include roles like helping to stock and coordinate the cafe as well as positions such as large event and fundraising coordinators. Community collaboration, he added, will be key to the centre’s future success.
“This is for the community and we want the entire community to help us, and to be a part of it,” he said. “Not only do we want that, but actually we need that. Because this place doesn’t have a full-time staff.”