Terri Wilkinson revels in the buzz of activity created by 35 kids at the Nelson Youth Centre.
“This is exactly where I should be,” she says of her new job as manager of youth and community programs at the centre.
Several kids roll around the large indoor skateboard area, while others gather around a table concentrating on craft projects. Another group sits quietly in a secluded area reading books and playing with LEGO. Across the room, a few kids take shots at a floor hockey net.
“At any given moment we have some quiet programming, we have some active programming, we have small group activities, and we have staff working one-on-one with kids.”
This is the youth centre’s day camp on Dec. 19, fully subscribed for the holidays. The camp runs during vacations and on teacher professional development days.
It’s part of the busy scene Wilkinson inherited from former manager Jordan Martin in December.
Wilkinson had years of education and work experience in youth recreation even before she moved to the West Kootenay 15 years ago. She ran after-school programs at the Blueberry Creek Community Hub in Castlegar and operated a private daycare in Balfour. For the past year and a half she worked as the executive director of the Nelson and District Women’s Centre.
Wilkinson says she has never seen a youth centre with as many projects and programs as Nelson’s.
In addition to a variety of programs within the centre, the organization has also been tasked by the city to run the Nelson Parkade, the Nelson Campground, and the city’s farmers’ markets. The centre uses all three of these external projects to provide employment and training for young people.
One of Wilkinson’s immediate plans for the centre is to create what she calls a “sensory hang zone.”
“We hope to offer this programming for families that have neuro-diverse children. I know it’s good timing for that, because province has improved funding for autism lately.”
The zone will contain books and games in what Wilkinson calls “a quiet space for children to de-escalate — not completely isolated, but their own space. … What an opportunity to bring in neuro-diverse community members, an opportunity where multiple populations can benefit,” she says.
Another innovation, already in operation at the centre, is the walking bus.
For its Weekday Warrior after-school program, three of the centre’s employees go to three elementary schools to walk groups of kids safely to the youth centre where they have circle time, snacks, free play, large and small group activities — a mix of structure and non-structure.
Later in the day, from 6 to 8 p.m., the centre is open for free activities, often with parents accompanying kids.
Wilkinson says home schoolers often take part in the centre’s activities.
The youth centre has gained the support of the public, she says, and as evidence she points to the fact that day camps and after-school programs are usually full with waiting lists.
Wilkinson attributes this success to her predecessor Martin, who has now moved on to a job in the the city’s human resources department.
Mayor Janice Morrison says Martin turned the centre into a place where children and youth choose to hang out.
“Jordan provided a safe space where young people could grow and thrive,” Morrison said. “She truly believed in the work she was doing to create this community hub. And she was instrumental in developing programming just for girls and young women.”
Morrison said the youth centre is part of the fabric of the community and thinks Martin is largely responsible for that.
“This is on top of her oversight of the city campground, city parkade, farmers market and MarketFest social enterprise programs,” Morrison said.
The parkade is full with a waiting list, Wilkinson says, and is a good source of income for the youth centre. The plan for the upcoming year is to improve signage and make the bike parking area better known.
As for the markets, one more night will be added because of the popularity of one last summer, and perhaps a winter market as well.
At the campground, the centre will introduce online booking and add landscaping and gardens.
Back inside the centre building, Wilkinson says she wants to upgrade the kitchen and introduce educational food programs.
Otherwise she wants to continue orienting herself to the myriad other things going on at the centre.
This includes an art room, a bouldering wall and a music room, as well as a makerspace where kids can tinker and play with robotics, coding, digital arts, woodworking, sewing and a sticker machine.
The Youth Action Network, for 11- to 18-year-olds, has weekly programming including an art club, a homework club, and activities sometimes carried out in rural areas from Blewett to Balfour.