Sylvan Lake, Alta., business owner provides free meals and odd jobs to struggling youths
Pandemic has reduced number of safe spaces for kids, youth expert says
A newly-elected councillor in Sylvan Lake, Alta., is turning her businesses into safe hubs to support struggling youths in the community.
While attending one of her first town meetings, Coun. Kjeryn Dakin learned COVID-19 was making it difficult to support kids in the community and town staff were at risk of burning out.
After tossing and turning in bed late one night, Dakin decided to help.
"If kids are hurting, I want to make sure that I'm doing anything and everything I can for them."
"If you see that our open sign is on and you're hurting and you need some guidance, just walk in," she said on CBC Edmonton's Radio Active.
The businesses will be a safe spot for kids to hangout and will provide free food to those who need it.
"Maybe you just need a break from life, you can pop in, sit down and we'll get you some chicken," Dakin said.
Youth can earn a few dollars doing odd jobs, she said, such as taking out garbage or sweeping the parking lot. If kids stay late, she will call a cab to take them home.
"For people to know that they're not in a complete bind, that's such a freeing feeling to know that there is somewhere to go."
Krista Carlson, youth services supervisor for family and community support services in Sylvan Lake, said COVID-19 restrictions have reduced the number of safe places local youths can access.
Domestic violence is on the rise in the community and family life is becoming more chaotic with a higher level of divorce, Carlson said.
"We're seeing more and more kids struggling with their mental health," she said.
'Everyone's been a kid'
Since Dakin posted her intention on Facebook, the post has gone viral.
"Everyone's been a kid," she said. "Everyone's been or had a friend that's been hurt or in a bad position.
"I guess it's that they need some restoring in human faith, putting some faith in humanity again."
Carlson said efforts to provide safe places for youth in the community is welcomed.
"Anytime kids have a place to connect with positive adults is a bonus."
Dakin hopes her move will inspire other businesses to follow with the goal of creating "block businesses" based on the Block Parents program, which advocates for child safety and crime prevention, she said.
"In my youth, I remember seeing the signs on homes," said Dakin. "I kind of want to bring that back, but for businesses."
The Town of Sylvan Lake is about 160 km south of Edmonton.
With files from Korey Siegers