Rising child poverty numbers are prompting a Cape Breton youth organization to drop its user fees to make its programs more accessible.
The Undercurrent Youth Centre runs more than 20 weekly programs in Glace Bay and Sydney. Many are free, while others cost up to $3.
However, even that relatively small user fee has become a barrier for some families, said Dave Sawler, the organization's executive director.
"Our goal is simple: we want to remove all barriers which stop children [and] youth in poverty from having these opportunities," he said.
Sawler said Undercurrent will remove all regular fees and adopt a pay-what-you-can system as of September.
Some of the programs offered through Undercurrent include skateboarding, music and sports. The centre also provides a daily meal.
10,000 meals for kids
Sawler said the number of hungry kids coming to the centre is rising.
"It just became evident that it's a growing problem and I think last year we did 10,000 meals for kids and youth just in Glace Bay," he said.
He said the seriousness of the poverty situation became evident one day in the kitchen when a child asked a staff member for food for his family.
"We're just cooking pancakes, it didn't seem like a big deal. This one kid kept coming up to [the staff member] and saying, 'Thank you for the pancakes.' And then he came back and asked if he could take some home," said Sawler.
Sponsorship program launched
The centre is launching a child sponsorship program to help pay for operations and expenses now that user fees are being removed.
The goal, said Sawler, is to find 100 sponsors for each centre who are willing to contribute $35 per child or $90 for a family every month. Sponsors will receive a tax receipt and can sign up for the program through Undercurrent's website.
Sawler said investing in Cape Breton's youth can help break the cycle of poverty.
"I think that's our part and so we're investing in a present need because there are kids who need somewhere to be, a safe place to be," he said.
"But it's also us investing in a brighter future because someone's investing in them."
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