He’s maybe thirteen, going on thirty-five, perhaps a survivor of abuse who is experimenting with rubbing alcohol and having trouble in school. She might be fifteen, maybe pregnant, and unable to bear being at home after school.
They, and dozens of other young people with a variety of greater or lesser needs, have found both a family and a home at a place called YAK. The Youth Action Kommittee’s community centre is in a roomy loft on the main floor of a former shoe factory in the Lanark County Town of Perth.
During my tour of the centre last Friday I told Executive Director Tanis Cowan and Program Manager Donna Stratton (pictured above) how impressed I am that such a place exists in Perth. When I used to stay with my grandmother there each summer as a kid she kept me on a pretty tight leash, bemoaning the “nonsense” that town youngsters my age got into – hooliganism such as pulling out flower planters on the main street or defacing signs. (I got away with a few minor infractions unbeknownst to her!) These were but symptoms of much greater issues being faced by young people then (and now) but there was precious little for anyone, not – say – heavily into organized sports, to do.
That’s a drastic over-simplification of the issues, then and now, but YAK is doing an amazing job in a variety of ways to give youth a greater sense of purpose, making life in a small town much more bearable. Specialized services, more available in densely-populated areas, do not always measure up where school boards are one hundred kilometers or more across!
Community meals. A public health nurse. Addiction and mental health services. Mentoring programs. Recreation. Computer skills. Youth homelessness support. Literacy and homework help. (See the web-site for much more information available through YAK and its partners.)
YAK has a board of directors representing professionals and community mentors, backed by Town Council.
Notice the rainbow flag overhead. Respect for diversity is so ingrained at the centre that whenever staff hear a homophobic slur, for example, Donna says the offender knows to “drop and do push-ups”. Even better, the young people themselves exert their own positive peer pressure.
This is not the town of my youth!
I am setting myself some reasonable goals of assisting YAK, in ways yet to be announced, because I see myself wanting to help make the growing up experience a more positive one for young people who are motivated to move ahead against some occasionally difficult odds, in this town of Perth I hold so dear.