Penticton teens are lacking when it comes to affordable activities and social services according to a year-long study released at a public forum Monday.
Gov. Gen. David Johnston was among the 100 audience members at the Lakeside Resort who heard those deficiencies put local youth at increased risk of drug and alcohol abuse and engaging in unsafe sex.
The Self Esteem Project was a collaborative effort by the Central and South Okanagan Similkameen United Way and the Community Foundation of the Central and South Okanagan Similkameen (CFSO).
“Youth clearly articulated the need for free, accessible and relevant activities that offer real alternatives to drugs and alcohol,” said social services professional Amy Woodruffe who gave Monday’s presentation.
The work was made possible through a $300,000 bequest from the estate of Rohan Crompton-Bell of Penticton for the betterment of local young people.
“What this (study) shows is that they’re underserved, they have been underserved for years,” said Aaron McRann CFSO executive director. “Everyone has different opinions about why that is but what we need to do now is get the community engaged and have the community understand the results of this study and then buy in and help us get this done for youth.
“From here we begin a community consultation process to really dial in solutions for youth in our community and find a way to serve them better.”
Other local deficiencies identified included no emergency housing, no culturally-based life-skills training programs for urban aboriginal youth and no youth employment resources.
As well, results showed a large number of youth living in poverty, Penticton ranking in the top 10 cities in the province with the highest number of children and young people living on welfare.
Two people particularly happy with the findings of the project were two Grade 12 students from Princess Margaret Secondary School, Mckenzie Ricard and Giorgia Riccardi.
“Coming from a person who has lived her whole life here, I thought everything she said about kids in Penticton was true,” said Ricard. “I think people are starting to listen but hopefully it doesn’t get pushed away or brushed off.”
Recommendations in the report pointed to the need for a youth centre where kids could also access services they might need.
The findings released at the forum also had a strong impact on the parents in attendance, including Jennifer Taylor.
“I get a lot of feedback from my 15-year-old son, and you nailed it,” she told project leaders.
“There’s nothing to do, can’t afford to go skiing, we don’t even have a half-decent mall for these kids to hang out in.
As part of the project, researchers conducted interviews at area schools of youth aged 13-18 from a variety of cultural and economic backgrounds, and a number of service providers.
At the end of the forum, the Governor General spoke briefly to the audience on the importance of helping young people be heard.
“This is very exciting because this is an effort to look at a particular problem in the community and come up with constructive solutions by doing so beginning by listening to the young people themselves,” Johnston said, although he declined to say whether or not he found the study results troublesome.
Penticton Mayor Garry Litke, also at the meeting, pointed to the Parks and Recreation programs aimed at teens and the financial assistance available to help those who cannot afford it otherwise to take part.
He pointed to specific target groups such as those living in challenged domestic situations and the gay, bisexual and transgender populations who feel they don’t have a place in the community.
“I don’t take it as a criticism of what the city is doing,” he said.
“I think the city is doing very well for those kids that can access those programs, but if you’re one of those other teens, well I guess you can always do better.
“In fairness to the report, I do believe that there is a segment of our young population that is lost and are looking for, and maybe they don’t even know they need, help but are not getting connected with what they need.”