Lake Babine Nation is encouraging local youth to be more productive and keep off the streets and out of trouble.
They have recently opened a youth centre behind the Margaret Patrick Memorial Hall that is proving to be popular with locals aged from just four years up to 30.
For Crystal Harwood, Lake Babine Nation community engagement coordinator and recreation services supervisor, youth are a priority.
“Through the youth centre we are able to have more meaningful engagement and more involvement with the youth in a variety of different situations,” she said.
Aside from educational, sports and craft activities offered at the centre Lake Babine Nation member Wilf Plasway, Jr. has been hired to teach traditional drumming and dancing.
He said, “They are doing really good and we are looking at having the kids own regalia and drums made down the road. These are great kids and this is a good outlet for them.”
Harwood said the centre also offers sex education as well as drug awareness and the Burns Lake RCMP are working in conjunction with Lake Babine Nation teaching youth about the dangers involved with illegal activities such as hitchhiking.
The youth centre also features computers for homework, a pool table, games and activities as well as a 63 inch television for video games and movies.
Youth are being educated in genealogy ad learning about their ancestors.
“They are learning who they belong to and where they have come from which is very important to their self esteem and it helps to strengthen their ability to speak up for themselves. This has really created a bond of trust between the youth and adults …the kids call me mom,” Harwood added.
She said the centre also offers a youth worker for counseling that is available after hours.
“We have also teamed up with local schools to enhance the information we are offering to youth,” Harwood said.
Lake Babine Nation is funding the centre in conjunction with government funding and Harwood said it has long been needed.
“Before this, there was nothing. During previous gatherings with youth, they said they wanted something like this, somewhere to go and hang out and stay out of trouble … they were mostly getting into trouble because of boredom. We also promote no drugs and alcohol,” she added.
Harwood said Chief Wilf Adam and councillors have been very supportive of the program.
The trailer was already located at the centre, but it was upgraded to fit with the needs of the centre.
Chief Adam said, “I am glad that this has finally happened. It took awhile and there were funding challenges but we have everything in order now and the youth centre is a hit with the kids … I should know as a couple of my kids attend,” he laughed.
John Bertacco, Lake Babine Nation councillor said he was in full support of the youth centre and worked hard to get the program off the ground.
“It was one of my priorities, to have a youth centre. In September this year we are looking to have two youth councillors elected and they will report to Crystal and [Lake Babine Nation health director] Vincent Joseph about the centre. This youth centre has made a big difference to the youth, they are off the streets and come here straight after school. For whatever reason some kids are discouraged not to go home after school so they have a place to go here. We have computers and there is no Facebook, they are just for homework and the leadership is very proud of this youth centre and the team we have developed. They have delivered on their promises.”
Joseph said, “This youth centre is giving the kids a positive direction and we are able to teach the kids life skills. This is very important for the kids.”
Khelsea Mae, 15, said, “The youth centre is pretty cool. We get to chill out and play pool. I like to play Dance Central on XBox and I like the drumming and dancing.”
Mae said before the youth centre, she would either stay at home or walk around town with friends looking for something to do.
Dillon Patrick, 16, said, “This is a good place to go to keep out of trouble. It’s a fun place to chill and hang out and play pool … before I was at home being bored, but I find it fun here.”
Tatianna Madam, 12 said, “This is a good place for me to be. I have my friends here and I like the drumming and dancing. Before the youth centre I would stay at home, but this is way better.”
Lake Babine Nation are also looking to open similar centres for youth in Tachet and Fort Babine.
The local youth centre is open from Monday to Saturday and is open to all local youth.