The Woolwich Youth Centre will mark its tenth anniversary on May 2 with a birthday party hosted by staff and members in the Woolwich Memorial Centre from 5-7 p.m. It’s a landmark achievement for an organization that got its start on the floor of the old Elmira Arena a decade ago, and the woman who was one of the primary forces behind its formation hopes it will be around for decades more to come.
“I think it’s amazing that the township has a dedicated youth centre and a space for youth,” said Kelly Christie, the director of community support for Woolwich Community Services.
“We’re really pleased and proud that we’ve been able to establish that program and that it’s so well established. It will be there forever.”
The youth centre provides year-round recreational activities geared to youth from Grade 6 to 19 years of age. It provides a safe, supervised atmosphere for youth to participate in onsite and offsite activities ranging from Internet access and movies to a pool table, gaming systems and a range of books.Yet the centre has humble roots, explained Christie. It began 10 years ago as a summer pilot-project funded through a grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation. After the success of that initial summer program, Christie sought to maintain the youth centre and received an additional four years of Trillium funding.
The youth centre moved from the arena floor to the community centre above the old arena, but had to share the space with the seniors centre and the Sugar Kings’ Blueline Club, which was less-than-ideal, she said.
“Every day we would set up the couches and ping pong tables and foosball table, and every night we’d take it down and push it aside because we were sharing that space.”
When designs were submitted for the new arena, the youth centre rallied for a space of their own by making presentations to the council of the day, eventually winning a spot on the main floor of the Woolwich Memorial Centre near the pool. About 130 different youth made use of the youth centre in 2011-2012, though that number has reached as high as 200 some years, Christie said.
“It’s been very well-respected by the youth that use the centre and we’re thrilled to be in there,” she said. “I can’t believe we’ve almost been there for three years. Time flies.”
While it does provide an invaluable service to the community, the youth centre does come at a significant cost – around $55,000 per year to operate. Yet WCS is dedicated to the space and to the youth that are served by it, meaning they will support it in perpetuity, even if it means running a deficit some years.
“The benefits for the youth that come are that it’s a fabulous, safe environment for them to experience growth within themselves,” said Christie. “The conversations start up and we can have some very open and interesting conversations and they can have their ‘ah-ha’ moments.”
The youth centre is open Tuesday to Friday from 3-5:30 p.m. and re-opens from 6 to 10 p.m., with some adjustments made to accommodate summer schedules or March Break. There is also one full-time youth centre coordinator who works about 28 hours a week as well as one part-time staffer who puts in between 12 to 15 hours a week.
The 10th birthday celebration is open to anyone who would like to stop by for a free meal and to check out some of the activities that the centre has to offer. Past and current members are also welcome to join. Please RSVP by calling WCS (519) 669-5139.