With the goal of increasing access to services for themselves and future generations, youth on the Sturgeon Lake First Nation have helped construct a new youth centre.
And after months of hard work, the building officially opened May 26.
Clifford Ballantyne, a youth support worker, removed his glasses to wipe away tears throughout the speech he delivered to a packed gymnasium in the Sturgeon Lake Central School to mark the opening of the centre.
“In the last two and a half years it’s taken everything I have to get to this point, so for me, it’s a really proud moment for my mental health,” Ballantyne said. “That’s why I kind of choked up there, [the youth] have put just as much into this as I’ve put into it.”
Youth from the community were encouraged to take charge of the project, selecting the paint colours and flooring. Students in carpentry classes helped build the deck which now surrounds the front of the building. An accessibility ramp will be added in the coming weeks.
Ballantyne was born in Sturgeon Lake and he identifies it as his home. He understands it can be tough for youth and that some feel as though they are not being heard.
“That’s what means the most to me, is that they’re being heard,” he said. “For this youth space, we want to have it where it’s an access point into seeking services, but at the same time we can do programming to amplify the skills [youth] have now.”
Ballantyne never figured he would be where he is today.
Two and a half years ago, he agreed to take on his position today as a youth support worker; months later he received his acceptance letter for film school.
“I decided to pursue the project because I thought of the value and what it can do for the youth in our community,” Ballantyne said. “Not just in our community, but across Canada.”
To do this, he worked alongside Carolyn Gaspar, a research assistant.
Gaspar worked closely with the youth of Sturgeon Lake, to identify their needs. She said relationship building was key to her time in Sturgeon Lake.
“When it was me coming to the community more frequently, they began to see me as more of a peer than a researcher,” Gaspar said. “I would say it was like a snowball effect.”
She said word of mouth spread about what she was up to, and more people started coming out to talk with her.
Youth expressed the biggest need for sports like soccer, volleyball and basketball as well as access to cultural programming.
The project had many supporters, among them was ACCESS Open Minds.
ACCESS is a national research project which aims to improve youth access to mental health services. Sturgeon Lake is one of 14 sites across Canada where ACCESS operates.
“[It's] part of a five-year research project to plan, transform and evaluate a transformation in how they were traditionally doing these mental health services,” Jessica Chisholm-Nelson, director of operations for ACCESS said.
On Twitter: @BryanEneas
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