The Youth for Christ Centre of Excellence on Higgins and Main is not fulfilling the promises it made when it applied for and received more than $6 million in federal and City of Winnipeg funding, according to neighbourhood advocates.
The centre is being criticized for not serving the needs of aboriginal youth in the area. Advocates told CBC News it is not accessible to local residents because of cost and limited opening hours.
The centre offers no free drop-in programs four days a week, including Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday. The only free drop-in programs are four hours of rock climbing on Tuesday and Thursday and two hours of skateboarding on Wednesday. None of these programs start before 7 p.m.
Those limited hours won’t work for the youth in the North End, according to Annetta Armstrong, director of operations at Building Urban Industry through Local Development (BUILD).
“It doesn't serve them. If they're not inside a facility that's accessible to them then they're out on the street learning how to get into trouble,” said Armstrong. “It's just a shame that it does not seem to be meeting any of the outcomes that it promised.”
CBC News obtained a copy of Youth for Christ’s business plan through Access to Information. It was submitted as part of its funding application.
The plan states the goal of the centre is to grow youth development activities “with special attention given to addressing the need of high-risk youth and aboriginal youth.”
Later the plan states it wants to move to the Higgins Avenue and Main Street location in order to expand services “that will benefit all youth but especially aboriginal, low-income and high-risk youth.”
Youth for Christ also said the Centre For Youth Excellence would offer a “safe haven” during after school, weekend and summer hours.
“Such programs offer adult mentoring, drop-in activities and opportunities for community service, for learning about careers and the world of work, and for discovering places beyond the neighbourhood,” the plan states.
'I really love it here. It's the first dance studio I have ever been to that I can actually glorify God through my dancing.' - Anna Richard
People who live in the neighbourhood not only don’t use it, they don’t know about it, according to several community groups.
“I would say it's not on the map. There are recreation spaces that are on the map for folks in this neighbourhood and there are spaces that are accessible — that means free. Where needs are taken care of like being able to eat, having uniforms provided, having equipment provided so that kids can actually participate in this sport that they're going after,” said Kate Sjoberg, executive director at North Point Douglas Women's Centre.
“Because it's not accessible, it seems like it's a private club.” Armstrong added. “It always seems like it's a ghost town in there, and I know that the windows are dark and the doors are placed so you really can't see, but we take a good hard look every time we're by, and it always just seems to be empty.”
John Courtney, YFC executive director, wrote in an email to CBC: “We do philosophically believe that free doesn’t always equal best.” He added: “Our charge of $1 for the fitness centre is token, but we think adds value to the experience of youth being engaged.”
The centre offers paid drop-in programming Monday through Friday. The cost ranges from $1 to work out in the gym to $10 to climb the rock wall.
"We don't get government funding for operations. I would say many, many organizations are depending on government funding for their operations," Courtney told the CBC News I-Team on Tuesday afternoon.
"Ours is funded by people who care about kids — donors, corporations — and so the fee structure is something that does help us a bit, but it's not an obstacle to the kids."
While this is low-cost for some Winnipeggers, it can be an insurmountable cost for others, said Bernice Cyr, chief financial officer of the Native Women’s Transition Centre, adding that even $2 is too much.
“That's not accessible at all. Two dollars is their bus fare. That's what they're using to get there. That's all they got. EIA does not support or have funds in their budget for recreation for the families.” Cyr said in an interview.
Courtney wrote: “I am not aware of any situation where a young person wanted to be involved in any of our programs that we turned away because of a financial hardship. We make it work.”
Courtney said the centre offers work for trade and other fee reductions and concessions to pay for the programs that come with fees.
“While we do not have stats … I can tell you The Edge [indoor skate park] could have up to a dozen youth weekly who utilize the ‘work for trade’ arrangement," he said.
Youth for Christ’s dance program, Masterworks Dance Studio, does post statistics on the number of people who have received help paying for lessons on its website.
In 2013-2014, 18 people worked to pay for dance lessons including three drivers who pick up students, three cleaners and a marketing adviser/copy writer.
Thirty dancers are sponsored, 24 of whom get transportation and snack. Fourteen families use the subsidy program which means they pay half the tuition cost for the year.
According to the Masterworks Dance Studio website, one class per week of elementary ballet costs $376 for the session that runs from September to May.
'The fee structure is something that does help us a bit, but it's not an obstacle to the kids.' - John Courney, Youth for Christ executive director
Courtney said Masterworks runs classes every day except for Sunday. He added that YFC runs free Basketball at R.B. Russell School throughout the school year and that program will move back to the centre at the end of June.
There is also Samson’s Wilderness Adventure Team which does a lot of outdoor events between 7-9 for youth, and most of these events are free
In 2010, YFC’s business plan stated its goal was to increase participants from 4,500 youth to 10,000 annually by 2015.
The actual numbers for 2013, according to Courtney, are 6,200 different teenagers, up from 5,600 in 2012.
Youth for Christ says “Our best conservative estimate would be that we have had over 1,000 aboriginal and at-risk youth participating in our programs annually.”
When asked if he was satisfied with the estimated 1,000 — or 16 per cent — figure, Courtney said they are "thrilled, more than satisfied."
Courtney admitted that the centre does not track the ethnic background of its participants.
"We don't look at the colour of skin when they walk in the building," he said.
"By virtue of being where we are downtown, we're more accessible, and we've seen an increase in the user base, and I think we anticipated and knew that would happen."
"Those numbers do seem a little low to me,” said Diane Roussin, a North End community advocate. “But given the availability of the programming, I guess those numbers would fit the availability of the programming."
Courtney added that every week YFC picks up more than 100 youth, many from the North End, and brings them to the Centre.
When it comes to consultation, several community groups told CBC News it has not partnered with or used Youth for Christ facilities.
The CBC News I-Team called eight youth service providers identified in the centre's business plan, yet only one shared resources with YFC.
Youth for Christ’s business plan committed to working with other community organizations, plus after Winnipeg city council gave funding for the project the go-ahead in in February 2010, Courtney offered to meet with critics.
"I've asked for a list of all those people that came here to do presentations against [the funding proposal] and I said I'd really appreciate their name, their role, their contact and I would love myself to initiate some dialogue with them to see where … we can talk together and partner and learn.”
But in an email to CBC last week Courtney places responsibility on community groups to contact YFC. “We would love them to take the initiative and call us. We would make it happen at our end. Collaboration includes them taking some initiative on their part to have a conversation with YFC.”
Courtney said consultation with community groups is already happening, although he did not name the groups.
“We’ve had many conversations with numerous staff from a wide variety of agencies, with the agenda of seeking ways to collaboratively help all teens, and especially those from aboriginal, low-income and high-risk, to grow up healthy, caring, and responsible. “ said Courtney.
“Deep down people wanted to believe that those things that were promised were going to happen. I don't think many believe that those promises were lived up to. It's disappointing,” said Armstrong.
While there is disappointment among advocates, there is also hope.
“This was an opportunity for the city of Winnipeg to recognize the needs of the inner city and to respond in a really exciting way. And we failed; totally failed. And we need to recognize that and make it good. And so I hope that that's what happens,” said Sjoberg.
Read YFC’s 2010 business plan below the web poll.
Who uses YFC Centre?
CBC News went to the centre last Wednesday night. Teens came for the free skateboarding, the fitness centre and the dance studio.
Many people come from the suburbs of Winnipeg to use the centre including Island Lakes, Charleswood and North Kildonan.
Seventeen-year-old Damian Paoletti drives 25-minutes from North Kildonan to use the fitness centre.
"It's a really friendly environment, it's very welcoming,” said Paoletti. “It's farther than other gyms but I can connect better with the people here and of course it's cheaper and I don't have to wait in line for the weights.”
The 25-minute drive is worth it for 14-year-old Anna Richard.
“I really love it here,” said Richard. “It's the first dance studio I have ever been to that I can actually glorify God through my dancing.”
Linda Vandenakker drives in from Transcona. She pays $168 a month for her daughter’s 14 hours of classes a week.
While her daughter was dancing on Wednesday, she and her husband shuttled five core area kids to the centre for art classes.
“They needed drivers to pick up kids from the Core area to bring them to the art class,” said Vandenakker. “Masterworks wants to make dance and art accessible to everybody, regardless of income and social standing. “
Some parents dropping their girls off for dance live near the YFC centre, like Deanna Momtchilov.
“It’s close by to us and it is close by to our church. We live here in the North End,” said Momtchilov. “This is great opportunity for us to be able to do some dance.”