A place to hang, and a chance to dream

Fort McKay First Nation’s new Youth Centre offers comfort, nurtures talent

How does Simon Adams gauge the success of his community’s newly opened Youth Centre?

The presence of the youths themselves, for starters.

“Compared to our old youth centre, we’ve easily tripled the number of teens that we see every day,” says Adams, director of community services with Fort McKay First Nation, about 50 kilometers north of Fort McMurray, AB.

“The options, the activities, the environment of the facility itself—this is something they really want to be part of.”

After an official ribbon-cutting ceremony for the $8-million facility on Sept. 9, the 10,000-square-foot Fort McKay Youth Centre has been an instant hub of after-school activity for teens aged 12 through 18.

Open from 3 to 9 p.m. on weekdays, the youth centre offers a fun, safe and welcoming environment, on a drop-in basis, for teens in Fort McKay, a community of about 500 on the banks of the Athabasca and MacKay Rivers.

Supported by a staff of five, the youth centre’s activities and amenities include:

  • A movie and gaming room, with Xbox and Wii systems;
  • A computer room with touchscreen-enabled workstations and digital media/publishing capabilities;
  • A common room equipped with a pool table, air hockey, bubble hockey and a high-definition projector;
  • A daily hot supper, cooked on premises;
  • A recording and production studio, with a live-streaming operational radio station (broadcasting locally at 106.3 FM); and
  • An art room, which will be equipped with pottery wheels and a kiln by January.

“We want to nurture the talent of the youths in our community. Basically, if they can dream it, we’ll try to make it happen,” says Adams. “We’ve got teens at the centre talking about recording their own songs, and pursuing artistic careers.”

Supported in part by industry sponsorship, with contributions from Husky, BP and Enbridge, the Fort McKay Youth Centre is a new, special piece in a community puzzle that also includes Fort McKay’s community hockey arena, built in 2010, and fitness centre.

“We don’t want to ‘program’ the kids to death, but we are working with our First Nation’s culture, education and health departments so that we’re talking to them about fitness, healthy lifestyles, the value of staying in school, the dangers of substance abuse,” says Adams. “And it’s very important for us to link our elders together with our youth through workshops—like sewing for moccasins or traditional dress.”

“Eventually, we want to open the centre on weekends, with more workshops and programming for the wider community.”