Visits to the Ponoka Youth Centre (PYC) have increased by 35 per cent last year.
In 2013 the PYC received 13,686 youth visits from 550 different kids, that’s 3,408 more visits than in 2012. Executive director for the PYC Beth Reitz met with town councillors Feb. 11 to show how important the operation has been to Ponoka youths and families.
“We run one of the most successful teen youth centres in our province,” said Reitz.
She feels strong staff and positive collaboration with Ponoka and area schools have been important factors in the PYC’s growth. Many of the programs offered are meant to benefit kids’ life skills and Reitz feels there is a long-term benefit to what they offer at the centre.
One of the programs is designed to help former Diamond Willow Middle School students’ transition to being taught at Ponoka Secondary Campus. Twice a week in the morning, PYC staff bring smoothies and will check in with the students. They also check in at lunchtime and the PYC has logged 2,000 visits with students so far, explained Reitz.
The PYC has been operating with another program under the same roof; Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS). “It has worked phenomenally well to have those two programs (PYC and BBBS) together.”
Organizers have taken the mentoring program to a new level with high school students mentoring younger elementary aged students at the centre.
“We have about 20 of these going on right now and just the relationships between the high school and the elementary school…When they go to Grade 7, they’re going to know somebody in high school,” explained Reitz.
She suggests the dollars used in mentoring programs is money well spent and brings future dollars into the community.
“Every dollar that you invest into a mentoring program, the social return is $18. You can’t find that return on investment anywhere else,” said Reitz.
She says benefits to the community come in the form of reducing juvenile crime between 3 to 6 p.m., and the risk of teen pregnancy is also reduced. This time-period is found to have more youth-related crime and the youth centre provides kids with activities to keep them busy.
Some of the funding provided to the youth centre is at risk. Reitz said the centre receives 20 per cent of their funding from Family and Community Support Services (FCSS). The organization makes use of a home care contract and because FCSS is non-profit, it can provide funds to community efforts such as the youth centre. There is worry that contract will not be awarded to FCSS next year.
“That’s a huge hit…We wouldn’t even know where to start to make that up,” said Reitz.
Another 10 per cent of their funding was lost after the 2013 Alberta Budget was announced. Reitz asked council for financial assistance to keep the PYC and BBBS programs going.
Coun. Marc Yaworski asked Reitz how much she was looking for.
While Reitz said she knows the town has not given financial assistance before and realizes the budget is tight, making up for lost funds is still a concern. She asked for a minimum of $10,000 per year for the youth centre and $5,000 to $8,000 for BBBS program.
FCSS provides $25,000 to BBBS and $40,000 to the PYC.
Council did not make any decisions but Mayor Rick Bonnett thanked Reitz.
“We don’t know what we have room for yet but we will definitely look at it,” said Bonnett.