A place to go, extra healthy home-made snacks and hot food, and after school programs make a massive difference for kids whose families are facing strong headwinds.
At YCC, we have 3 key priorities: 1) meeting the most basic human needs including food security, 2) building a kid’s capacity to break the cycles of poverty and to become healthy, happy, contributing citizens, and 3) building a strong and inclusive community around kids who may not otherwise feel that they belong to one.”
Today, if you walk into the house any day after school and through the summer, you’ll find a happy and boisterous group of youth, practicum students, and volunteers, in a warm and lively atmosphere. We have worked to create a welcoming and happy family vibe in the house, and it is a place where kids feel they have a home away from home.
It has always been about the kids. Executive Director, Jane Wachowich, says, “Give me $5 and we’ll spend it on a kid.”
Inspired by extensive work done as a volunteer in Chicago’s inner city projects in the 1990’s, Jane realized the measurable difference that after school opportunities have on the long-term success of kids who struggle economically and socially. She saw that if children were given access to a support system, they had a greater chance of success in life. It was in Chicago that the seeds were first planted for the work that YCC does today.
When Jane returned to Calgary, she continued to volunteer her time with youth centres, joining the Board of Directors of the Cornerstone Youth Centre (CYC). After two years on the board, an opportunity arose to allow Jane to use her cumulative knowledge, and she stepped in to manage CYC initially for six months. That 6 months turned into three years, and CYC saw a drastic change, through different programs, increased donations, and higher attendance by the youth in the area.
After five plus years with Cornerstone, Jane felt it was time to leave and started working on opening another youth centre with the same successful template she had created and refined while with Cornerstone. Through extensive research and consultation, it was found that the community of Ogden was best suited for a youth centre as there were limited activities, abundance of youth and a population facing economic and social headwinds.
A youth centre was opened in Ogden, in a little home with a green door. It is located walking distance to local schools and where children live, across from a large green space. YCC garnered the support of the locals, renovated the home, obtained a land-use amendment to operate a youth centre indefinitely in the heart of a residential area and obtained charitable status. The doors opened to kids in summer 2019 just in time for a free summer sports camp. And the kids came!
When COVID lockdowns closed the Ogden centre, staff and volunteers took to the streets in response to schools and community members showing concern over the food insecurity in the Ogden community and beyond. This initiative opened the opportunity to connect with 18 communities to give out 150,000 commercial kitchen bag lunches, tons of groceries, sports equipment, and books to families who were struggling. Beyond the massive amount of giving YCC and partners were able to execute, much was learned about the vast and growing needs of Calgary’s underserved communities and many important relationships were developed.
Teachers, social workers, and school principals told us that kids were arriving at school hungry, and without lunch. Schools don’t feed the kids. So, we started a Breakfast Club pilot program on the “beaten path” to school, where kids can stop at the steps of our house for a hot “grab and go” protein and calorie-dense breakfast and a piece of fruit. What’s left is brought to the schools and distributed to those kids who could not come to our house. This is a wraparound of care with our esteemed school partners.
A Second Centre
Plans are underway to open a second home in the underserved Calgary community of Dover. We have developed a duplicatable model–a successful and effective template that we would like to bring to other communities and hundreds of kids, just as we have done in Ogden. All it takes is a house. To this end, we have researched and have drawn upon long-standing relationships in the underserved communities to confirm us in this exact location. Always data-driven and in conversation with key community leaders, we will target under-the-radar communities, those with socially isolated, low-income families and high rates of youth crime, and few community resources like courts and sports teams. These are the communities who require exactly the type of oasis we know how to create.
With a population of talented, athletic youth, who are otherwise unable to access good coaching and opportunities to succeed in sport, we have assembled a team that has been successful in registering and paying for 15 YCC registrants to play club basketball. Thanks to this investment of time and funds, many of our kids are acquiring the necessary skills to play on school teams and for the first time mix with kids outside of their own neighbourhood. It is our intent to replicate this program in each of the communities we serve.
Adding Community Recreation Spaces
We are working with the Calgary Parks Foundation to build basketball courts, and other recreation spaces in Ogden where there are none. This model will be brought forward to other communities that lack the resources and facilities to create opportunities for youth.
Ongoing Wraparound Support
We work with Calgary Reads, I Can For Kids, the Calgary Flames Sports Bank and the schools and social workers to provide wraparound support that puts youth and their families at the centre and builds a network of support in a variety of areas that are required for children to thrive.
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