A theatre-room, a workshop, a gaming lounge, a kitchen, a gift shop: any idea you could toss out for the Nawican Bergeron Youth and Cultural Centre is already covered.
After accepting the keys to the building – formerly the Bergeron Funeral Home – in November, Nawican began accepting youth into the building in January of this year, as it continues to work on the rest of its plans and programs for the youth centre.
Things are going good right now, as Nawican staff, as well as youth and families get used to the day to day of the new location and what services are being offered. While the possibilities are endless and the future is bright and ambitious, the vision for the centre is fairly simple.
“My vision for this and what I’d like to see, is for the youth to realize there’s more out there for them, there’s a better life. Raise the bar of your expectations,” said Jannah Kohlman, Nawican’s executive director.
Kohlman said in her three years of working with the Nawican Friendship Centre, she’s heard countless stories of clients telling her that if someone would have shown they cared or gave advice to them, it would have made a huge difference.
“Those stories are heartbreaking, and are what brought on the vision of having an actual youth and cultural centre, and a safe place for kids to go.”
The centre will be open to all youth, Indigenous and non-Indigenous. However, an emphasis will be placed on Indigenous culture.
“Because we’re a cultural centre, we want to bring that pride of their culture into the situation, so that Indigenous youth who’ve been bullied in the past for who they are can have something to be proud of,” said Kohlman. “It can help change their perspective of the racism that they’ve dealt with.”
As for what kids can do and expect at the centre, where should we start?
The pride of the centre is it’s large and open gaming room. It holds multiple foosball tables and arcade games, comfy couches, and TV’s, and shares a kitchen space and performance floor. It’s perfect for hosting a music jam-night, or a pool tournament, and for giving kids a place to go after school, or whenever, and be themselves.
“We have a youth drop-in program for kids to come after school or during the day. We can also help with their schooling, and will be doing different workshops once (COVID-19) is done,” said Tara Ray, Nawican’s youth coordinator.
“There will be people on hand for youth counselling, for both walk-ins and appointments, and we want to have that coffee-shop feel.”
A media room has been made where people can gather for movie nights and visual workshops, using the projector system left over from the funeral home. It’s currently the home of Nawican’s outreach treatment program too, a pilot program being run to help those in need while other centres are closed due to the pandemic.
The kitchen will also be used both for teaching kids how to cook in a structured way, and for people to help themselves and make something when they want a snack. An impressive collection of instruments has been purchased with funding from a recent grant, and will be used regularly once social gatherings can take place again.
There’s an indoor workshop room that will be used for arts and crafts. The garage is being converted into a workshop area as well, where traditional meat preparation and hide tanning will be practices, as well as small engine repairs and similar mechanical activities. And, if you’re wondering what’s to come of the building’s crematorium, it’s being converted into a specialized wood working area.
A gift shop is being constructed, where local artists can display their Indigenous-inspired creations for anyone in the community to enjoy, and plans are being made to convert the large outdoor space on the lot into a basketball court in the summer and ice surface in the winter, as well as a place to set up permanent teepees, once spring and summer arrive.
The future is bright, but a lot of work needs to be done before it arrives, and has been done already. A lot of admin work has to be set up for each program offered, and covid-related restrictions don’t help. The folks at Nawican are busy each day coming up with new ideas, and working on plans and procedures to implement current ideas.
“There are a lot of things for youth in town, but a lot of them are expensive or are difficult to access. Having a place where you can just drop in and play a game of foosball, or relax on the couch with a coffee – it’s a process, but if we build it they will come,” Kohlman said. “It’s about building that trust, and once they come in the doors, they’ll see all the supports we have to offer.”