Small-town living, for all its wonderful attributes, can leave the calendars of youth a little lacking in social life, extracurricular activities and opportunities. But in New Denver, the historic and picturesque community of 600 on the east shore of Slocan Lake, youth turn to the Outlet Youth Centre to help fill this gap.

Since opening in May 2012, the Outlet has become an integral part of the youth experience in New Denver and outlying communities like Hills and Silverton. Art classes, ski trips, first-aid courses and a popular Tuesday night supper club are just a few of the activities offered at the Outlet. It’s also an important meeting place—a social hub where youth can hang out in a safe and comfortable environment.

“It has a real family feel, and it has brought youth in our community a lot closer together,” says 17-year-old Claire Yaremchuk, who previously served on the Outlet’s Board of Directors. “It’s also a way for us to meet other youth who are visiting and camping around New Denver in the summer.”

Located at street level in a heritage building that once housed a café, the Outlet has a casual and welcoming atmosphere, with couches and a bank of computers in the main area. The walls, painted in purple and blue waves, feature youth artwork, including a creative take on a Jackson Pollock painting. In the back room there’s a fully stocked kitchen, and on warm days young people can hang out in a backyard patio area with lawn chairs and a swinging seat.

Banishing boredom, and more

The Outlet is one of many positive examples of how Columbia Basin Trust is helping communities increase local activities, opportunities and services for youth aged 12 to 19. In 2011, during the Trust’s last round of youth strategic planning consultations, Basin residents listed some common concerns, including youth boredom, a lack of activities and opportunities, inconsistent funding to support youth services or spaces and the need for a safe space, or hub. Consequently, in 2012 the Trust launched Community-Directed Youth Funds, a four-year initiative intended to address issues like these.

Since the plan’s inception, 19 participating communities—from Valemount on the Yellowhead Highway to Rossland near the U.S. border—have taken a grassroots approach in deciding how to set up the program locally and how to put into action a four-year total of $100,000 each in funding. With the support of the Trust and adult community members, youth played a key role in the process, including by identifying issues, prioritizing ideas, brainstorming solutions and hiring coordinators.

“The Columbia Basin Trust funding has been essential to our being able to provide youth with a centre of their own, which has become more than just a space,” says Outlet co-ordinator Paula Shandro.

“They take ownership and responsibility for the centre and for themselves.”

“I believe they feel valued by the community in that the centre receives widespread community support, and the kids have a place to go that is neutral and is their own.”

A customizable approach

When the Trust first reached out to Basin communities to gather information on youth issues and concerns, the Village of Fruitvale had already identified youth engagement as a priority goal. After Trust funding was secured in 2012, Fruitvale community leaders worked with their counterparts in nearby communities like Montrose to form what is now called the Beaver Valley Youth Club. Instead of a one-size-fits-all approach, each area or region decides how best to use the funding to meet the unique needs of its youth. That’s the key to the program’s success, says Tammy Gallamore, who took over as co-ordinator of the Beaver Valley club in 2014.

Although the club started with, and continues to focus on, volunteerism and fun social events, its initial formal structure struggled to hit the mark with participating youth. But the club still served an important role and organizers were determined to work through the growing pains. The club shifted focus and put youth in the driver’s seat in a more open and casual environment, allowing them to take an active part in planning and making programming decisions.

“When I first met with the kids after taking over, we brainstormed.”

I didn’t want to lead; I wanted to facilitate and allow the kids to lead,” says Gallamore.

The club is now a big hit—a Friday night focal point that fills a blank spot for many youth in the Beaver Valley region. These days, an average of 30 youth meet every Friday evening between 6:30 and 9 p.m. in the basement of the Fruitvale Memorial Hall. The club offers youth a mix of experience and opportunities while also striving to attract and offer more to male youth. A volunteer component helps foster civic responsibility among youth through helping out at events like Canada Day celebrations. Meanwhile, social and sporting events, such as games and movie nights, and skating and bowling outings, give youth the chance to engage with one another in a fun, safe environment.

Leadership development is also an important aspect of the club. In 2015, the club began offering Today’s Teens, Tomorrow’s Leaders, a popular program developed in the United States that helps build youth confidence.

“I graduated from the leadership course in July. It really helped me to overcome some shyness and get comfortable speaking in front of groups,” says 15-year-old Kyleen Mcmillan, one of 20 Beaver Valley youth to complete the program.

Looking forward

With up to four years of the program behind them, the participating Basin communities have built strong foundations for youth culture and meaningful youth engagement. Engaged and happy youth are key to healthy communities in the Basin, and the Trust will continue to reach out to support community efforts to ensure youth are supported and proud to live in this region.