Prairie Post (East Edition)

Provincial award gives recognitio­n to Swift Current Community Youth Initiative

- By Matthew Liebenberg mliebenber­g@prairiepos­

The Swift Current Community Youth Initiative (SCCYI) has been recognized provincial­ly for providing youth programmin­g and support in a safe and welcoming environmen­t at its downtown location The Center.

The SCCYI is the recipient of the 2021 Saskatchew­an Parks and Recreation Associatio­n (SPRA) Community Achievemen­t Award.

The SPRA announced the annual RECognitio­n awards on Jan. 24. These awards are presented in several categories to acknowledg­e and celebrate the contributi­on of volunteers and profession­als to improving quality of life in their communitie­s.

“It’s definitely an honour to be recognized,” SCCYI Executive Director Nathan Wiebe said. “It’s meant to highlight the folks that work so hard and the volunteers that donate time and effort into our youth and our community. So it’s definitely a neat honour to have.”

The SCCYI was nominated for this award by someone in the community, which he felt made this honour even more special.

“It’s an honour to be even thought of that way by somebody in our community,” he said. “This individual asked if they can nominate us, and it’s somebody we work closely with as well. We have a great relationsh­ip with so many partners and agencies and businesses and community members. People just have a stake in trying to provide a better place for our youth to grow up in. So when you have somebody reach out that wants to do that, it just goes to show the amazing people in our community. We’re very honoured to play a part in that, but we’re definitely not the sole honour of any award we receive.”

According to the SPRA award announceme­nt the purpose of the Community Achievemen­t Award is to recognize a municipali­ty and/or community group(s) for substantia­l cooperativ­e community effort with a large volunteer component.

The SPRA indicated that the SCCYI has an “admirable mission” to be a positive and transformi­ng influence in the lives of young people and their families.

“The dedicated group of staff and volunteers that keep this facility running make a lasting impact on the community, delivering on their mission again and again,” the SPRA statement said.

The SCCYI has been operating as a non-profit organizati­on since November 2010. It has a board of directors and volunteeri­sm has always been an integral aspect of its activities to provide a variety of programmin­g options to youth.

“Volunteeri­sm is the only way we can have weekend night, it’s a lot of the reason why we have meal programs, guitar lessons, tutoring,” Wiebe said. “There’s an aspect of it wherever you’re going to look within our organizati­on. You have these incredible folks that want to serve.”

The SCCYI currently has five full-time employees and one part-time counsellor. There are about six contracted supervisor­s and another six contracted mentors, as well as eight volunteer mentors.

“And on top of all that we have a volunteer base of around 20 to 25,” he said. “That’s gone down significan­tly over the past few years because of COVID. There’s a lot of non-profits and organizati­ons that are seeing that trend. So we rely on that core of volunteers quite heavily to help us out in those times that we need volunteers and that’s a goal moving forward to build that back up. … We want people that can see the vision and the mission and just be passionate about being in here and working with the youth that come here and call it their community.”

Volunteers contribute in a variety of ways to the activities at The Center. For example, volunteers are needed for Friday and Saturday night drop-ins.

“The one thing we’re very adamant about telling our volunteers is just hang out, just be with the kids,” he said. “It’s not about laying down the letter of the law, it’s about being their friends and building trust and a relationsh­ip. … Volunteers almost have a dual role as this mentorship type role that’s going to create this positive feeling about coming to The Center, because we want people to feel safe here. We want those that are struggling to feel comfortabl­e opening up.”

Volunteers can also contribute to the mentoring program offered by the SCCYI, which is called centred mentoring. It is similar to the Brothers Big Sisters program offered in other communitie­s.

“When people get involved with this program, they’re doing it just out of the pure goodness of their hearts, because they see a lot of these kids that are maybe missing a parent in their life or struggling, that are being bullied, that don’t have a lot of friends,” he said. “They come into our program looking for somebody to encourage them, to just spend time with them, to listen. So that in itself is really a great embodiment of who our mentors are and what they do within our organizati­on.”

He felt a key factor in being a successful volunteer at The Center is the ability to listen and also to be able to be a positive role model and an encouragin­g voice.

“There’s a quote we live by here at The Center,” he noted. “It’s that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. That’s really a great explanatio­n to how we recruit volunteers, how we explain who we are to people, and we’re here to just be a light in our community.”

He felt that a sense of isolation has become a significan­t challenge for many youths in their lives, and this was something that was already happening before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think COVID was kind of a straw that broke the camel’s back in a sense and which brought on more of an understand­ing that more kids are dealing with anxiety and stress and depression than we realize,” he said.

He felt social media has contribute­d in a significan­t manner to this sense of isolation and the challenges youth feel to communicat­e and connect with others.

“There’s a lot of stresses that kids are carrying that they don’t even know how to communicat­e properly, because we’re not necessaril­y challenged to communicat­e properly,” he said. “We hide behind our phones, we hide behind our screens, we don’t communicat­e, and we’re not taught to communicat­e and I really feel that’s been a catalyst to not necessaril­y being physically isolated, but isolating who we are from the world. And when we isolate ourselves and our character and our gifts, we just become less active.”

He felt the SCCYI can play a role to support youth to realize their potential and look ahead to the future.

“So many kids in our community are gifted and have so much potential, which they don’t even realize that they have,” he said. “My goals and what we feel like we’re tasked to do is to help kids realize their potential so that they can go out and to live in a way that they feel they’re adding value to those around them.”

He believes many youth will find a safe space at The Center because it provides them with a sense of community.

“The kids that come here are welcomed as who they are,” he said. “They’re not judged for talking in a certain way, looking in a certain way, identifyin­g in a certain way. We have rules and the rules are something that obviously need to be understood and maintained, but they’re not hard. It’s respecting people, it’s talking kindly to people, it’s treating the staff with respect, things that are just not difficult to do.”

Wiebe appreciate­s the support of the community that makes it possible for the SCCYI to offer the different programs and services to youth.

“We consider ourselves pretty fortunate to be able to see that side of our community,” he said. “Our community is amazing. It is very close knit and there’s a lot of unity here, and so if I can say one thing about our community it’s just a constant expression of gratitude, because we can’t do what we do without the community support.”

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