Gananoque teens will soon have a safe place to hang out, eat and have access to free WiFi with a new initiative between the town and the YMCA of Eastern Ontario.
After the success of the Brockville YMCA teen drop-in centre, many youths in the area said they would also like their own drop-in program close to home this summer. Many were previously bussed out to attend the program in Brockville.
"We decided lets go to where they normally would gather. The location of Joel Stone Park is a very popular spot amongst the teens and youths," said Rob Adams, CEO of the YMCA of Eastern Ontario.
"We're coming to them so they can feel and understand that they feel valued that we're here for them, and we are here providing programs at the place they feel safe the most."
Adams believes that this program is about getting the teenagers in the area more socially engaged, "because the last year and a bit have been very challenging for youth and teens and kids, especially with a lot of their social connections being discontinued throughout the pandemic."
With support from Gananoque town council, the United Way, RNJ Youth Services, the YMCA and the Gananoque police and fire departments came together to launch a new teen initiative that will run throughout the summer.
Police and fire services in Gananoque have donated the use of a mobile command trailer to be used as the teen drop-in centre in Joel Stone Park.
One of the biggest differences between the new drop-in centre in Gananoque and the one at the Brockville YMCA is the uniqueness of the centre.
In the YMCA they typically would have a facility to run the program out of; meanwhile the home base of the drop-in centre in Gananoque will be the mobile command trailer in the park.
Police Chief Scott Gee said in a prepared statement: "Through numerous consultations, youth have told us that they want a safe space to gather and that is what this initiative provides. We are pleased that the town has recognized the voices of our teens and is playing an important role in making this a reality."
The teen drop-in centre will be opened next week in the park, locally known as "The Berm," with COVID-19 protocols in place.
"We want this to be led by the teens and youth by their suggestions," added Adams.
The program will be loosely structured with activities that are pre-planned that the youth can do while overseen by staff of the YMCA and RNJ Youth.
"We want the teens to direct traffic, so to speak. So we want them to direct us on what types of program and opportunities they want to see," said Adams.
The United Way is providing $10,000 to this new program; the Town of Gananoque will be matching the United Way's proceeds. The Y will be covering the residual budget of $5,000.
"We wanted to be creative and unique, and again it was about going to a place that was already familiar to the youth and teens," said Adams.
Currently the YMCA is in the process of making the mobile command trailer more appealing to a younger audience with different decals on the outside, while the inside of the unit will have some kitchen appliances and other equipment in it.
"It'll be welcoming for sure," said Adams.
Jessica Munro, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brockville Recorder and Times