As a teacher, I was surprised to hear that the centre commonly talked about in class and in the halls was in danger of closing. When the word got out that the Youth Community Centre’s fate had more than likely been sealed due to a city decision to cut funding, the mood among the students who frequent the centre showed a remarkable shift.
The sadness and – more upsetting to me – the sheer anxiety they felt as a result of their safe haven possibly closing pulled at my heartstrings. At first, my assumptions about such a place were mixed. Yes, the youth can gather in one place but misery loves company. I started to understand the importance of the facility when a student approached me in tears over the impending end of the school year.
The mountain of emotions on this young girl’s shoulders left me perplexed. I could understand her sadness over the news of the centre closing, but also because summer break was upon us?
Then I realized that school was the one thing she could count on. Day in and day out the teachers would be there and her classmates too. It was not the curriculum she liked, but knowing what her day would look like for at least seven hours. What would happen when she got home was something far more unpredictable. It was after that revelation that I truly understood the meaning the youth centre had in her life. It was more than just a place where she could play pool; it was another safe place that she could count on.
The city’s reasoning that it’s “targeting the money more broadly” defeats the purpose of the youth centre’s mandate to cater to a specific group of teenagers. Students enrolled in extra-curricular activities or ones who have a comforting basement where they can relax are not the same youth seeking the services of the youth centre.
A more broad approach simply distributes the funds in a more general way. In fact, if the purpose of the funding is to provide youth with preventative programs, the youth who currently use the centre are the ones the funding intends to target. In essence, the youth centre is indeed a preventative program, precisely meeting the definition of where these funds should be allocated.
If this is merely a numbers game and the centre is serving few youth, then the city has a compelling argument. But we are not dealing with numbers, we are dealing with teens who seek out a more productive way to spend their time than meandering the streets of St. Albert without any adult supervision.
The idea that council is turning down an opportunity to provide youth a place to go after school under the supervision of caring qualified adults is surprising. The stereotypical rhetoric towards teenagers has commonly been that they are irresponsible troublemakers who need more adult guidance. The people who make the decisions in this community should be jumping at the opportunity to provide such an integral service to at-risk youth.
The ones who seek out the youth centre are the ones who truly need. They are the youth whose parent is working late, whose single mom is taking care of two elementary aged children. According to the council’s own definition, these are the youth who desperately need a safe, supervised place to go to prevent ‘extra-curricular’ activities that could potentially take place without the watchful eye of a responsible adult.
The most disappointing aspect of this decision is the message it is sending to the youth who use it. It sends a message that they are not worthy to have a safe place to hang out. This principle is one that is most likely very familiar to many of the centre’s clientele.
Where do these kids go and what will they do when they get there? To what extent is this decision really just showing a lack of investment in youth who could potentially provide outstanding dividends given the right tools?
Tristan Brass is a St. Albert resident who recently taught at a local junior high school.