The YES Project, in partnership with the Penticton Public Library, is reaching out again – this time by hosting a Teen Wellness Fair.
“We’ll be having a conversation about healthy living choices and the resources that are available out there,” said project co-ordinator Amberlee Erdmann. “So we’re inviting everyone young to have a conversation about healthy living and healthy lifestyles.”
The fair takes place at the Library Sept. 25 between 7 and 9 p.m. and there’s no cost to attend.
After a report was issued in 2012 detailing the challenges facing local youth, the YES (Youth Engagement Strategy) Project was launched to give a louder voice to young Pentictonites, and it’s steered by a committee of youth.
“Youth are the experts of their experience; they tell us what they want to do and then we facilitate it,” Erdmann said. “This is not a top-down organization – youth are telling us what they want in the resource building and they’re telling us what’s important to them.”
The launch of a youth resource building – which at this point is an idea on the drawing board – is the long-term goal of the YES Project. The resource centre will offer the amenities that are in highest demanded by local youth.
“The idea for it is to be a 24 hour resource centre,” she said. “During a meeting we had a with a number of youth, we brainstormed ideas and asked what they would ideally like to have. There were no limits – waterslides, a bmx park – tons of big ideas. But when we narrowed it down to the top three picks – emergency beds were number one, second was mental health and counselling support, and third was basic needs; toiletries.”
Erdmann said there are currently three emergency shelters in Penticton, but they’re only available to people over the age of 18.
“So that means we have youth sleeping on the streets. Which is crazy to think about that here in Penticton youth are living on the streets.”
She said the South Okanagan Women In Need Society is working towards providing a bed for females under 18, but that initiative is still subject to approval.
“Youth are living on the street, couch surfing; living in vulnerable situations,” she said. “There is a crisis in Penticton that youth have nowhere to go.”
The YES Project will be looking for community partners, donors, and hopefully support from the City of Penticton, as a group of youth will be making their pitch before city council later in the fall.
“The ultimate objective is to build a youth resource centre with emergency beds, long term sustainability that will help Penticton youth. Yes our goal is massive but the gap is huge.”
While the resource centre is still far from being a reality, the YES Project actively reaches out to the community is many ways. In addition to the wellness fair, free activities are held regularly, and Melissa Redfern, a youth engagement worker, has been hired on-call to respond to youth in need outside of traditional office hours.
“She’s available for youth outside of traditional office hours, especially during the summer when they don’t get as much support from school.”
Her contact info is available through their website pentictonyouth.ca. There, youth can find out about YES Project activities and can ask to arrange a free ride to and from events if transportation is an issue.
Erdmann said the project has reached out to around 200 local youth so far, and the Youth Advisory Committee has taken input from about 80 youth.
“Youth finally have a voice for once. We’re listening to them,” she said. “It’s not not just for at-risk youth, we want to be as inclusive and low-barrier as possible.”