By Michaela Ludwig
For Sylvan Lake News
If you want to change the world, the best place to start is in your own community. And that’s exactly what Briana Evans and the board members for the Youth Empowerment Awareness Hub (YEAH) are trying to do.
Evans, chair and founder for YEAH, presented the business proposal to Sylvan Lake town council on Monday, June 27, and received a lot of support.
“The town says they are very supportive of this type of centre coming into town, and they’re willing to help out when and where they can,” Evans said, adding that YEAH will continue to have conversations with the town as they move along in their process.
As the name suggests, YEAH will be focused on the youth of Sylvan Lake, as well as surrounding communities.
“Youth mental health and homelessness is a rising concern in many central Alberta communities, and Sylvan Lake is no exception,” stated the presentation summary. “Youth vandalism, violence and substance use is on the rise, and we need to take initiative to help our youth go down a better path, make more positive choices and learn the life skills they need to have a brighter future.
“YEAH will be a youth support hub, where youth will be empowered to take control of their lives in a positive way. We will provide them with a warm bed, food and shower. We will assist them with their education needs and help them learn life skills. We will help them discover the life and future they want and lead them in the right direction to living that life. Our vision, mission statement and goals will lead YEAH’s purpose and initiatives. We will build strong, lasting relationships with the youth and community partners to ensure we reach as many youth as possible.
The facility aims to be free from drugs, alcohol and weapons of any kind and the programs and supports will be serviced by volunteers, a social worker, a mental health therapist and the executive director.
“YEAH will have a positive effect within the community and will create a safe space for our youth to help get them off the streets, out of the unsafe situations they may be in, away from substance use and into a caring, non-judgmental atmosphere.”
But YEAH won’t only be for youth in crisis.
“We do have the skatepark,” Evans said of other places for youth in the community. “But we need something tailored to all youth.”
The YEAH business plan sets out the first three years of its goals.
In year one, the goal is to create a youth lounge, featuring video games, a pool table, board games, reading nooks, tables and chairs. This would be a place where all youth are welcome. There would also be an inclusive outdoor area, featuring basketball hoops, picnic tables and lounge chairs.
Year one would also see the implementation of a learning centre and employment services, where YEAH would partner with various organizations to host specialized classes and training sessions, such as how to make a budget or build a resume. There would be limited food services starting off, such as a vending machine with healthy food options, water cooler and coffee maker.
The estimate for year one is $162,025.
Year two, with an estimated cost of $181,000, would see upgrades to the youth lounge and adding a garden to the outdoor gathering areas. Sleeping quarters would be added in year two, catering to youth who may not have a safe place to stay. There would be bunk beds, blankets, lockers and toiletries provided.
“Youth who need to stay at YEAH will likely be in crisis or have recently experiences some sort of trauma,” stated the presentation. “To support these youth, social workers and a system navigator will be hired to ensure timely access to resources when needed.”
Year three, with an estimated cost of $392,410, would see the addition of staff, and more staff equipment, and a transportation service, as well as more upgrades to the youth lounge.
The estimated cost to get YEAH fully up and running in the first three years is $735,435. Evans and the YEAH board of directors are applying for grants that fit within their mission and mandate, and they’re hoping to do a lot of fundraising, including a gala in the spring.
There’s also a crowdfunding page to raise funds from community members, which is available on YEAH’s Facebook page.
“I think this is going to be welcomed positively,” Evans said when asked about how the community feels about this project. “All the feedback I’ve had so far has been very supportive. All the community support we can get will help us get off the ground. It’s not just us on the board, we want this to be community-led, grassroots.”
Once YEAH is launched, Evans hopes the organization can expand beyond Sylvan Lake.
“We want to assist youth in surrounding rural communities,” said Evans. “There are needs that have been identified in other communities.”
Evan hopes the hub will give youth a place to feel safe and access different resources.
“Their trauma might seem like a burden to them now, but it doesn’t have to define them. Their potential is endless if they have the proper supports, and they can go on to have a bright and fulfilling future,” said Evans.
Evans, a Metis woman, was born and raised in Sylvan Lake and her past was not an easy one, filled with instability, violence, drugs and alcohol.
Although she struggled for a long time to get ahead and make her future bright, she was able to do it. But she doesn’t want today’s youth to have those same struggles.
“I am strong, resilient and optimistic that if I can do it, so can others, and I am here to help them,” Evans wrote in her town council presentation.
“I understand that everyone’s story is different, and some are worse than others. But all are filled with our own traumas.
“By helping identify and work through these traumas, I will help build better futures for our youth today, so they can make a positive impact on our world tomorrow.”