Calgary

Youth centre for at-risk kids closes its doors citing financial pressures

A popular youth centre for kids who come from low income families can't afford to keep operating in Albert Park in the city's southeast.

Cornerstone’s Albert Park location in Calgary’s southeast closed last week

Financial pressures force Calgary centre for at-risk kids to close its doors

CBC News Calgary

2 years ago
1:56
Kids used Cornerstone as a home from home after school, playing video games or attending programs and activities designed to prevent them from falling into bad situations. Many used the centre for breakfast and dinners that they might not get at home. 1:56

A popular youth centre for kids who come from low income families, many who are classed as at-risk, has closed its doors.

The Cornerstone Youth Centre in Albert Park, west of Forest Lawn in southeast Calgary, had been running after school prevention programs and giving around 70 kids access to breakfast, lunches and dinners that many wouldn't get at home.

"After school a lot of these kids don't have somewhere to go if their family is working two and three jobs," said Jeff Gray, Cornerstone's executive director.

"Some come here because there might be a parent at home but it's not a very safe home life that they have, so there's a need in this community. All the kids coming to us are meeting some sort of need."

But the economy and changes to the building the centre uses means pulling out of the community altogether.

The centre gave kids access to crafts, activities, presentations, music and mental health workshops, also arming them with skills to keep them away from the lure of drugs and gangs in the neighbourhood and keeping them in school.

Jeff Gray with Cornerstone says the Albert Park location has helped many kids from bad home situations find help and support. For others, it was a fun place to play pool and video games and access free programs, keeping kids off the streets. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

Gray, along with Cornerstone's board and management, say the current economic climate has made it difficult for many non-profits like Cornerstone to operate.

Another problem is the building it uses in Albert Park. The city-owned building is run by the local community association, which now wants to use it in other ways to raise some revenue. Cornerstone had been paying the bills but can't afford to rent the space, which includes a community rink and kitchen.

"When we started programs here we were hearing some horribly sad stories about what some of these kids are experiencing," said Gray.

"Grades 6 to 9 is young but it's the average age for recruiting to gangs and prostitution, that same age range. At that age some have already been recruited for prostitution and they don't have somewhere to go to tell someone about it."

Another big component of the centre was that it was within walking distance in the heart of the community and local schools, making it easy for kids to access.

"This is the sad reality of the trickle down effect of the economy. It eventually hit us too," said Gray.

Cornerstone Youth Centre first opened in Calgary in 1994. The Albert Park location gave kids in Grades 6-9 a place to go after school with a host of free services and programs. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

"We had three staff and we had to let them all go effectively making us not have a program to run, so it's the physical location and finding a space that's financially viable to be in as well as having enough donations."

Cornerstone will continue running programs at its main Mayland Heights location in the northeast but Gray said lots of kids from Albert Park won't be able to make the trip there with no alternative in the community.

"It's sad because I live right up the street. If this closes I have to take the 30 minute trip to Mayland Heights. It's sad because there's a lot of people that I know here, but at not at Mayland Heights," said Kaylee Barlow, a regular young visitor to the centre.

Volunteers and staff are also sad to see the doors close.

It's definitely going to be missed. The youth here love this place. It's a safe space, we make sure everyone stays out of trouble and everything that makes an impact on these guys' lives," said Jennifer Gozzola.

"The impact is strong especially in this area," said Gozzola with a deep sigh.

The last program and dinner service at Albert Park ran Friday.

Between its Albert Park and Mayland Heights centres, Cornerstone has more than 300 kids registered.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dan McGarvey

Journalist

Dan McGarvey is a mobile journalist focused on filing stories remotely for CBC Calgary’s web, radio, TV and social media platforms, only using an iPhone and mobile tech. You can email story ideas and tips to Dan at: dan.mcgarvey@cbc.ca or tweet him @DanMcGarvey

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