Youth-run skate park now offers mentorship program

The Northside Youth Centre is now offering an informal mentorship program, giving children the power to make their own decisions.
The Northside Youth Centre provides a safe place for kids to skateboard, hang out, and learn from each other. 2:15

The Northside Youth Centre and skate park is now more than just a place for kids to skateboard. The centre, located in the Willie O'Ree Place, is offering an informal mentorship program, giving children the power to make their own decisions.

"The kids chose the name, they chose the logo," says co-ordinator Mitch Claybourn. "If you look around and see all the ramps here, well the kids designed all those ramps."

The Northside Youth Centre is opened seasonally. ( )


The children are taking ownership of the space, but they are also taking care of each other.

Claybourn said the younger children start to form bonds with the older skaters. They teach each other new tricks and watch out for each other at the park.

The volunteers are middle-school aged youth who are too young to hold a job, but have some experience to share. So many young people asked to volunteer at the centre this year that Claybourn had to turn some away.

Chris Ralph is a veteran skater who turned his love of the centre into a job.

"I said yes right away," says Ralph. "Growing up and coming to the skate park, I've always wanted to work here. It's like a dream. Lots of the kids here, they want to work here and that's why they're here volunteering."

He’s paid by the city to help run the camp.

Other, younger helpers wear blue shirts instead of the orange Ralph and his staff sport.  The blue shirts mean they’ve secured one of the seven spots available for day camp helpers.

Evan Sterling said he has his eye on a blue shirt.  He's only nine, so his mother still has to watch him at the centre.

Next year, he'll be able to skate by himself.  A few years later, he hopes to be helping other kids.

"I like the fact that he could come any time and feel comfortable," says Evan's mother, Barb Sterling.

"He's a little bit of an introvert so it's been a great avenue for him socially to meet other people, meet other young adults and the kids who come to the facility."

He's already given some instruction to the younger kids.

"I like to teach them things," Evan said.

The Northside Youth Centre moved from Nashwaaksis six years ago.  The facilities keep growing and the kids keep filling the space.

The centre is seasonal and closes in the winter, but the children don’t seem to be phased, said Claybourn.

"They come with fresh ideas, they bring so much energy. They look at the positives," he said.

"Sometimes us as adults get nailed down with the dollar figures and ‘is this safe enough’, but they've been able to teach me to be a little more open in the way we do things here."

Claybourn said skateboarders sometimes get a bad reputation but that it's unwarranted.

"Everyone's the same that walks through the doors here."