Yvonne Comfort was used to fights, make-out sessions and vandalism.
“I was having at least an incident report or two a weekend on kids who were getting into fights, or vandalizing, or getting caught making out in the bathroom,” said the Canada Games Centre’s youth program supervisor.
So this year, Comfort revamped the youth program, solving most of the behavioural problems.
In December, the Chillaxin’ Lounge closed down for two weeks and opened back up as the new-and-improved Youth Lounge.
“We let the youth know that when they came back in January it wasn’t going to be a free for all anymore,” said Comfort. “We have taken the program from being solely a drop-in to something that’s adult led but youth driven.”
The lounge is offering a number of new activities including DJ classes, film and media training, and leadership-focused programming.
“It’s youth-directed, adult-facilitated programming,” said Comfort. “The focus is to have them be engaged and connected with the hopes that this becomes their place,”
While the majority of the programming is more structured they still have Chillaxin’ Lounge on Saturdays.
Along with the change in activities, there were some personnel changes that gave the staff more time to interact with the kids outside of the Youth Lounge.
“There’s a relationship there all throughout the week which makes behavioural issues a whole lot less,” said Comfort.
Since she instituted the changes, Comfort said she has only had one incident.
“It’s an excellent improvement to the program,” said Boys and Girls Club of Whitehorse executive director Dave Blottner.
The Boys and Girls Club partnered with the Canada Games Centre when the Chillaxin’ Lounge first opened years ago, but no longer works on the project.
While Blottner applauds the changes that have been made to the program, he said that the biggest challenge for youth is the lack of transit at night.
“If you don’t live in downtown or Riverdale it’s a long walk to get to the Canada Games Centre from Porter Creek,” he said. “If there was safe and reliable transportation to and from all the subdivisions that went a little bit later in the evening we would see a lot less issues with youth in Whitehorse.”
The lack of evening transit is a challenge for the centre, said Comfort.
“If kids can’t get picked up or can’t get dropped off, they can’t come.”
The city has committed hundreds of thousands of dollars to improve the transit system. Part of that improvement included extending service, but only by one hour.
The city task force that gave recommendations on improving service identified extended hours as a priority, but it ranked low on the list, said city transit manager Dave Muir.
“Our main focus is to improve service for the majority and that is certainly throughout the day and late-afternoon peaks,” he said.
The changes to the transit routes should make it easier to expand the transit system in the future, which is the natural next step, added Muir.
For those kids who are able to get to the centre, the changes to the program are promising, but it’s an ongoing effort, said Comfort.
“I think we’re just touching the surface,” she said. “If they own it, they’re part of it; if they help create it, they’re more likely to respect it and help take care of it.”
Contact Josh Kerr at firstname.lastname@example.org