Staff at the Heartland Youth Centre continue to serve the community during what has been a most challenging year of heightened safety precautions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Much of the current programming is on pause, but that doesn’t mean the organization isn’t keeping in touch as best they can with local youth, said Winnie Bissett, the Centre’s executive director.
“For Jan. 11th, Sara Wengryn, our Boys and Girls Club director has basically made a Plan A and a Plan B – if we are allowed to open again, then Plan A is our regular programming with all the COVID-19 restrictions of course, and Plan B focuses on the virtual (connections),” she explained.
“Ever since April, we have been running a few virtual programs anyways, and those have continued throughout this year,” she said.
“We also partnered with the Outreach School and have been running a program called ‘Respect 2 Connect’. It’s about developing and building healthy relationships,” she said, adding that funding for that particular program comes via the Boys and Girls Club of Canada.
“The other one that we have been doing all along, and it’s had quite a bit of success, is our Art Attack program. On a weekly basis, we put together a package of supplies that the parents pick up and then the kids watch our staff do an art project from home. We’ve also been having an in-person art program, so now we have just joined those kids into the virtual group,” she said.
Although the numbers of kids who sign on virtually aren’t as many as would normally be the case, there are plenty of positives to the arrangement – the key one being that it’s a great way for the youth to stay connected, said Bissett.
“It’s tough right now. The younger kids are at least still going to school which is good, but the teens are doing the home-schooling. So when you are on your computer all day, sometimes the last thing you want to do (in the evening) is more virtual programming. But our sole purpose is to stay connected with kids and families and to help them out in any way that we can, so this gives us that link,” she explained.
“Boy and Girls Clubs of Canada has tremendous connections. As an example, they are connected to Indigo and Chapters book stores. So we’ve had boxes and boxes of brand new books that we have been able to give to our kids.
“We’ve also had some Chromebooks that we’ve been able to give to kids, too. One of the local companies also refurbished some laptops, so when COVID first hit, those families that didn’t have enough computers or laptops – we were able to help those families out,” she said.
“I like to see us as kind of a resource connection for families, too,” she said, referring to the provisions they made at the beginning of the pandemic. “Some people were quickly laid off, so we were able to provide grocery cards as an example,” she added.
In the meantime, Bissett said the next key date, as mentioned, is Jan. 11th – when the kids are set to return to school in person. That’s when staff will be better able to map things out for the coming months.
When asked about this past year and all of the unprecedented challenges it has held, Bissett said she’s truly been reminded of the amazing generosity of the Stettler community.
Even in spite of the cancellations of various fundraising events, local folks, businesses and organizations continued to show their solid support for the Heartland Youth Centre.
“I think what it has shown me is how incredible our community is – the support that we have had is hard to put words to. We’ve had donations come in from different people. And at the beginning (of the pandemic) we were trying to raffle off our car for our fundraiser.
“I was thinking how am I going to sell $50 tickets, and we didn’t have locations to set up tables at,” she explained. “But we sold out of those tickets weeks before the draw date.”
Also, the Awesome Auction, a huge fundraiser for the Centre, had to be cancelled and was eventually held online this past fall.
“Granted, it didn’t make as much but it still did phenomenally well. And the fact that we even got donations blew me away as well. Businesses were willing to give us items! So it’s things like that – people really see the value of the Youth Centre in the community,” she said.
Ultimately, what really provides inspiration in the midst of such uncertain times are the kids themselves.
“I’ve got a hand-made note on my desk that we found on the bus back in the summertime when we first got to open again for day-camps,” she said. ‘It says, ‘I’m happy to be back’ and it has a whole bunch of hearts drawn on it.
“We are social beings, and kids need that social interaction. They want to be here, they want to play and they want life to be normal as we all do.
“We all just need those connections.”
Check out Heartland Youth Centre on Facebook.