Something different is going on in Room 213 at Stanley Humphries Secondary school. Every Wednesday at lunch hour you will find a group of students clustered around a table in the center of the room. These students aren’t here for detention, but rather something quite the opposite.
This is a meeting of the Castlegar Youth Council, an enthusiastic group of young volunteers who want to make a difference in their community. After everyone arrives, a runner is sent to the cafeteria to pick up lunches for all. As soon as the food arrives and everyone is settled in, the conversation and brainstorming begin in earnest.
The reasons the students got involved in the council are varied, but run on a similar theme. Hannah Johnstone was drawn by the acceptance found in the group.
“I got involved with the youth council because I really like the atmosphere in here,” she says. “Being here with all of my friends is a really good environment for me.”
Adrian West has been involved since the very first meeting. “I joined the youth council because I wanted to make a difference in the community and make this a better place for teenagers,” she says.
The group feels empowered through seeing their ideas come to life and accomplishing things as a group they could not accomplish individually.
According to Chloe Sirges, the highlights include: “Celebrating differences in ability, in individuality, and bringing it all together in one group.”
The teens would like to see the group’s nonjudgemental attitude spread to the older members of the community.
Hannah Johnstone said: “Don’t judge us by the way we look. Get to know us first.” Adrian West added: “A lot of adults put labels and harsh words associated with teenagers with dyed hair, skinny jeans, tattoos and piercings.”
The group has blossomed from its original eight members to a core group of about 20, however over 75 youth have participated in the council’s various activities and events.
The group is mentored by Zoe MacKay, the type of adult who can offer acceptance, support and guidance at the same time. She is assisted by University of Victoria child and youth care practicum student, Michelle Postnikoff.
The council is part of a four-year pilot project run by Castlegar and District Community Services and funded by Columbia Basin Trust with additional support from the Vancouver Foundation.
The Castlegar Youth Council defines itself as a progressive, youth-driven organization, providing activities and resources for local youth of all abilities, cultures and economic status. It is open to youth between the ages of 12 and 19. Beyond the Wednesday lunch meetings, there are usually two other activities each week.
Unfortunately, after months of planning and hard work, the Youth Arts and Talent event scheduled for last Saturday had to be postponed due to storms passing through the area. Look for an announcement of the rescheduled date. The event promises to showcase some talented artists and bright minds.