By Elaine Hurlburt
Special to the News
What kids would organize their own fondue these days?
Haines Junction kids, that’s who.
And Mike Evans, enthused and energetic youth co-ordinator for the Junction, demonstrates a love for working with them.
He is pumped as he outlines their summer program.
“Is it luck or just strong convictions?” he says. “I seem to have always managed to get paid for what I already love to do.”
It is obvious that the Junction’s youth are lucky, too.
Guests can come to Youth Junction, the town’s youth centre, and play foosball, pool, or Wii. They can play guitar, use the computers, or order quality food and beverages from the café.
Evans likes to choose activities that precipitate some skill development.
Most of the planned activities are outdoors, but there are indoor games, coffee houses, barbeques, and of course, the fondue.
They fondued moose meat at Youth Junction.
“And we made and ate sushi, then had fruit for dessert and an open mike,” says Kyle Karman, student youth worker and talented guitar player.
Shauna Strand, this summer’s youth leader adds, “The fondue and open mike was my favourite event so far. It really showcased the talent of our youth.
“And,” she says, “I’m really looking forward to our day camps and canoe camp, getting out on the land.”
One most recent activity, an all-youth team for the Kluane-to-Chilkat Bike Relay on June 21, added excitement.
Evans elaborates on the race:
“The day started out beautifully. Laura Mackinnon (bike team member) provided coffee and breakfast wraps and my favourite cranberry squares from the Village Bakery where she works.
“I am forever grateful!
“Matt Trotter started out on the first leg, and as we waited for him at the Auriol Trail to cheer him on, a grizzly bear decided on the nearby roadside for breakfast flowers.
“Cyclists had to stop and our team jumped into the van. We tried to scare the bear away while escorting the cyclists past the bear. Then a brave and altruistic cyclist in an outrageous pink flamingo costume made a bee-line for the bear and made some crazy shriek to scare the bear away from the side of the road.
“It seemed to work because the bear ran into the bush and we didn’t see him again.”
Then hard, cold rain pummeled the racers at the summit.
“I decided to set a new standard of support by biking with Kyle Karman in the cold, pouring rain,” Evans says. “It was so cold and wet that we were drenched to the bone in moments.
“We just pedalled hard up the Guardsman Hill and screamed down the big hill with rain and dirt spraying us in the face.”
He grins and adds, “By the time we got to Haines — it was opening up and the sunshine warmed us — that was a perfect trophy at the end of our race.”
Team member, Savannah van Vliet, describes her whole ride on leg 2 as “amazing.”
(She is also a member of the swim team and says she is now looking forward to the swim meets.)
Karman’s one-word description of that bike race day: “Epic.”
“Arduous,” offers Owen MacKinnon, another team member.
Evans and his youth team often “rode off into the sunset” together as they trained for the race.
Here he interjects a philosophical note about bicycles versus quads and snow machines: “I think there’s benefit in instilling a sense of wonder and joy of being outside, exploring.
“Bikes are quiet, simple, and physical. I think it is good to appreciate all the ways of getting around the land.”
Other summer programs for Junction youth include Babysitter’s Certification Course, Equinox Rox (climbing and zip-line work), and mountain-bike training with Sean Sheardown.
Add kayak building and soccer camp, then team sports with Kyle Karman.
The centre is also sponsoring Youth Film Nights at the Convention Centre, hiking in Kluane and Tatshenshini Parks, a Whitewater Canoe Camp — Level 1, and a Moving Water Course with Paddle Canada.
Evans and a dozen youth also now anticipate the Youth Leadership Expedition along the Yukon River with Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in from Dawson City.
From July 28 to August 4, the youth will paddle in Voyageur canoes from Carmacks and participate in the Moosehide Gathering, just outside Dawson City.
Evans advertises the programs through brochures, posters, Facebook, and a website of his own design (www.youthjunction.org).
He asserts that the Facebook messages to the youth may be the most influential and effective means of advertising.
“The kids check their email about twenty-three times a day — no kidding!” he says, and laughs.
Evans explains that some of the programs are expensive so they charge a small registration fee.
“This is mainly to confirm the participant’s involvement in addition to assisting in cost recovery,” he says.
“This money goes back into the Youth Programs budget to deliver more programs and opportunities.”
Some of the programs have age requirements but otherwise it is usually first-come, first-served.
Two years ago, the ambitious Evans and his wife Marie-Josee were preparing to make their life happen in Prince Edward Island.
“But,” says Evans, “the spell of the Yukon grabbed me by the soul when I got an invitation to work with sled dogs with Uncommon Journeys for the fall of 2006.
“After a couple of wonderful months of training the dogs, playing hockey in the Whitehorse Rec League, and making a wonderful group of friends, I knew Yukon was my home.”
Evans then worked with Champagne/Aishihik First Nation as a recreation assistant on a three-month contract to create some opportunities for Haines Junction youth.
He smiles and says, “I was rewarded with a full-time permanent youth co-ordinator position.”
Evans then initiated the youth centre restoration project.
He and six youth worked with Champagne and Aishihik Housing Department to renovate the abandoned, octagonal, log youth centre.
It is now known as Youth Junction at the Sam Williams Youth Centre.
(The centre is named for the late Sam Williams, a well-respected elder who dedicated his time to sharing his knowledge and getting youth involved on the land).
Health Canada and Crime Prevention Yukon fund the current youth project. It is administered through Champagne/Aishihik First Nation, and is available to all Haines Junction youth.
“I don’t think I could’ve imagined a better job or working for a better organization than Champagne-Aishihik First Nations,” Evans says.
“I am forever grateful for the unending support and believing in me to deliver programming for youth in Haines Junction.
“They believe in me and I believe in them. Trust — it goes a long way!
“So Youth Junction is now a popular and well-respected place for our whole community’s youth to come.”
The centre is open Tuesday to Friday from 3:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. for ages eight years and up.
Elaine Hurlburt is a writer living in Haines Junction.