SUNDRE — In response to a service gap identified as a result of an extensive community needs assessment conducted by Greenwood Neighbourhood Place Society, plans to repurpose some space into a youth drop-in centre are underway.
“I believe a lot of people have hoped for something like this in Sundre,” said Sari Werezak, the society’s executive director.
“In our Sundre and area social needs assessment community study, we heard a lot of comments regarding mental health and the youth needing more supports and things to do. The respondents told us this was important, and this is our response to that,” Werezak wrote by email in response to questions.
Although still in the early planning stages, a home for the youth centre has tentatively been established close the downtown core about a block north of the Highway 27-Main Avenue traffic lights, she said.
“The former Centre Street Video is the proposed location, of course pending approval of all (town) permits. There are a lot of safety requirements that must be met,” she said.
But the location undeniably boasts potential.
“Planners imagine a permanent patio on the north side to increase usable space,” she said.
Plus, with Canadian Pizza Unlimited just a few doors down and the Backwood Bakery & Cafe across the street, the space would also give youth a convenient place in close proximity to many nearby amenities. However, there’s more to the initiative than merely providing youth with a location they can hang out at and call their own, she said.
“Our goal is mentorship,” she said.
Although not immediately able to disclose the project’s potential tab, Werezak said, “It’s going to cost a lot in the first year. I would say the loftier goal is to expand someday, and of course all depends on how much can be raised through grants and donations.”
The society’s successful application for a rural mental health project grant through the Canadian Mental Health Association, as well as Pieridae Energy, helped roll the ball forward, she said.
“That is going to help us start the youth centre.”
But since grants don’t typically cover renovation expenses, cost-saving opportunities will also be investigated and considered, such as seeking out lightly-used and reasonable quality second hand furniture. Ideally, the finished centre’s atmosphere will be reminiscent of a cafe, she said.
“We are looking for help with all of this and I am confident this community will come up with some great fundraisers to get these kids a safe and positive place to go with a wide variety of things to do that will attract a wide audience (and generate) participation. We all know it’s needed, and we have strong leadership and a great start to programs planned.”
An information night was scheduled for Tuesday, May 18 at the Greenwood Campground’s gazebo to share ways and ideas people can support the endeavour. Any adolescents between the ages of 14 and 19 who are so inclined to get involved are invited to join a youth advisory committee and may call Cherie Johnson, youth coordinator, at GNP’s office, she said.
“We are still in the process of forming a Youth Advisory Team consisting primarily of young people who want to help develop this place for them and their peers,” she said.
“Their involvement is key every step of the way — their input in what they want to see it become means they will have a lot of ownership.”
Throughout the course of the community needs assessment, a youth survey received more than 200 responses with thoughtful and challenging comments, she said.
A timeline in the face of the pandemic’s third and worst wave in Alberta to date remains elusive.
While Werezak would like to have a soft launch later this summer in September, she isn’t certain that will be possible because of the unpredictability of the pandemic. At the latest, she hopes programs could be underway by December, which would at least offer the one benefit of additional time to prepare for the eventual launch.
Meanwhile, she said Russ Klassen, who works for Shaw, has been appointed as the centre's program director.
“He has 25 years of experience leading youth with youth groups, summer camps, coaching,” she said, adding volunteers who will be lending a hand once the centre opens will be screened and trained.
At some point in the near future, Werezak said she also expects a kind of naming contest for the centre.
“We hope the youth themselves can help name it,” she said.
Once up and running, the centre will be powered by the Youth Enrichment Project under GNP as well as Sundre Family and Community Support Services, and additional grant applications are going to be submitted to United Way of Central Alberta, the provincial government, as well as a private funder, she said.
“We anticipate being successful in efforts to sustain the centre.”
Call the society’s office at 403-638-1011 for more information or to get involved.
Werezak sought to emphasize the importance of community involvement, and called “really exciting” a growing list of individuals who want to pitch in by any means they can — materials, labour, equipment, and of course financially.
“We need lots of sponsors to make this happen,” she said.
“As we await further governing approvals, we continue to be hard at work gathering further community support, dreaming of future programs, contacting stakeholders both in renovations as well as programming, continued advertising and forming a youth advisory committee,” she said.
“We trust that this is an accurate reflection of the desires of the community and as such will create a natural buzz as we continue to solidify plans and gather continued support.”