After years of relying on a makeshift space in the community gymnasium, the Williams Lake First Nation (WLFN) is celebrating a new drop-in centre created exclusively for its Youth.
WLFN has offered child and Youth programming for more than 20 years, and its recreation team was recently able to renovate a rarely-used exercise room into a space just for the community’s 13 to 18-year-olds.
Sterling Alphonse and Travel Larue, two Youth who have been using the space, explained that the new drop in centre was launched because of their feedback on wanting their own place to enjoy and relax in.
“It makes you very aware that your voice is being heard. And that if you need to talk to somebody, that they’re there for you,” said Alphonse.
With their new space, which opened its doors in April, the centre is now open Monday to Friday from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. for drop in, with special events still taking place some days which run later into the evening.
A space for culture and exercise
The drop-in centre is located underneath the community gym on the Sugar Cane reserve.
During a visit to the centre, there was a sense of comfort coming from all the Youth, and they expressed their enjoyment of having a space of their own and having the ability to utilize it five days a week.
Along with the drop-in centre and Youth leadership program for the 13 to 18-year-olds, the WLFN recreation department also runs an after school program for six to 12-year-olds.
Although after school program coordinator Justin Code works mainly with the younger people from the nation, he says that he is always looking for opportunities where he can “be a support for that older Youth programming.”
Many of the Youth agreed that ball hockey is among their favourite activities, and so the drop-in ball hockey nights in particular are a hit among them. The recreation team even organizes tournaments where Youth can play against the staff and other adults from the community.
WLFN child and youth support worker Brittany Zimmer spoke of her efforts of trying to incorporate cultural components into her programming, such as picking sage while hiking.
She noted that she tries to combine the fun activities with culture, which seems to be a shared theme amongst the staff.
“We’re trying to build that connection and that bridge between our children and our Youth and our knowledge keepers and our Elders,” said recreation manager Lucas Kiefiuk.
Community involvement is a focus of the staff, with Zimmer adding how amazing it is to have Elders and siblings come out for events so that families can come together and experience events with one another.
Recreation supervisor Maddie Douglas added that they try to tie family events into their programming and it allows for them to build relationships and foster connections.
“With this space comes a lot of hopes and dreams,” she said.
Similarly, Zimmer expressed that her wish is to have a “fun, happy space for the kids.” She added that she wants to be a “safe person” for the Youth while teaching them new skills.
Before the space became a drop-in centre, it was a workout room for community members that was rarely used. There was Youth and community feedback that there was no space for the Youth, and so the recreation team decided to convert that space into the new drop-in centre specifically for them.
Zimmer added that after hearing the feedback, “We listened and we provided.”
A home away from home
Many of the Youth attending the drop-in centre have been participating in programming with WLFN since they were younger, with some starting as early as daycare and continuing on now into their teen years.
Two more Youth, Keane Philbrick and Drent Louie, spoke about how much they’ve been enjoying having their own space. Philbrick said he has been part of the child and Youth programs at WLFN “Since I was little,” and now, with their own drop-in space, he has “kept coming here every single day.”
The memories made by Youth attending the programs can last a lifetime — many of the Youth were able to recall memories of activities that they experienced more than 10 years ago.
Louie recalled his first time playing football through WLFN’s programming and added, “this was a long time ago, this was probably 12 or 14 years ago.”
Since the Youth have been attending programming for years, they have been along for the various changes made to their space and could detail how much it had changed, from walls being taken down, to rooms being repurposed to better fit their needs.
Louie explained how the older Youth used to have a couch in the kitchen area where they could be separated from the younger children.
The Youth still have access to the kitchen, which has been used for cooking classes, and they explained how they enjoy making — and especially eating — the food at the centre. As Louie says, the food is “the thing that makes me consistently come here.”
When asked what makes them excited to come to the program, Drent answered that it’s the pool table that belonged to his late uncle, Byron Louie, and was donated to the space so he can now use it while at the centre.
Philbrick answered that he enjoys “just having fun.” Alphonse added he enjoys the time to “hang out with the other Youth from our rez.”
Both Youth and staff expressed interest in fundraising, with the Youth agreeing that it’s definitely worth it when they get to go on trips in the end.
Recreation manager Kiefiuk explained that they are planning on getting Youth more involved in fundraising by offering an international trip as a long term goal.
So far this year, the Youth have been on a trip to “Vancouver” to attend a Canucks game — the first NHL game that a few of the youth have ever attended.
During this trip, Youth Haze Grinder recalled a run in with Canucks defenseman Quinn Hughes at a movie theatre.
“We took a picture with him,” Grinder said with a smile.
Some Youth also went on to attend the Gathering of Voices (GOV) Indigenous Youth leadership conference that same week. Grinder again recalled his exciting experience with the program at GOV and how he got to meet the First Nations hip hop duo, Snotty Nose Rez Kids.
The recreation department is excited by the new addition to their child and Youth spaces and have plans to continue growing in the upcoming years.
A common note from the staff was their commitment to being a stable and constant presence for the Youth.
“All we can do is just always be there no matter what,” said Zimmer.