Nova Scotia

North Sydney youth centre closing after 14 years says COVID-19 halted fundraising

Two youth centres in North Sydney, Cape Breton, have been struggling to stay open because of fundraising issues related to COVID-19. The Clifford Street Youth Centre will now close this fall due to money issues.

'Literally we have no money. When the summer's over, that's it, we're done'

The Clifford Street Youth Centre in North Sydney says it will shut its doors this fall. (George Mortimer/CBC)

A youth centre in North Sydney, N.S., is preparing to close its doors this fall after 14 years of serving children in the community, saying the COVID-19 pandemic has stalled fundraising efforts vital to the facility's operation.

The Clifford Street Youth Centre is not the only cash-strapped space for youth in the community. A few blocks away, the Five Eleven Youth and Family Center said it is also struggling and only survived the winter thanks to a significant anonymous donation.

Paul Ratchford, who runs the Clifford Street centre, said pandemic lockdowns have made fundraising difficult, if not impossible.

"We always struggled, but because of COVID we have zero fundraising," said Ratchford, an officer with the Cape Breton Regional Police.

"Literally we have no money. When the summer's over, that's it, we're done. We're hand to mouth, and the mouth is sewn shut right now."

He said contributions are also down from groups that normally donate to the centre because they, too, have been unable to fundraise.

Ratchford said the centre, which provides numerous programs and services to youth aged four to 18, needs $30,000 a year to operate. The building is owned by the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, which does not charge the centre rent or utilities.  

Ratchford says there's simply no money to keep the Clifford Street Youth Centre going. (George Mortimer/CBC)

Miranda Holly, 12, has been going to the Clifford Street centre since she was four years old. She said the closure would be devastating.

"This place is more of a second home that I can come to, I know it's safe to talk to people," she said.

Twelve-year-old Miranda Holly says she and other kids love going to the Clifford Street centre. (George Mortimer/CBC)

Ratchford said Clifford Street has made a difference over the years.

"It definitely has made a measurable impact. A lot of people are far better off because of what we provided, if you ask any of our kids where they are now and where they could have been," he said.

On Brook Street, the Five Eleven Youth and Family Center is also struggling to keep going just three years after it opened in a former school building. The centre helps families deal with poverty, addiction and other issues.

Since it operates in a much larger building, founder Brian Barron said space can be rented out to generate revenue. But he said most of the centre's funding still comes from donations.

Barron says the second COVID-19 shutdown would have closed their doors if not for a large anonymous donation. (George Mortimer/CBC)

"Our second [COVID-19] shutdown almost closed us completely if it wasn't for the generosity of a few people," said Barron, whose church, Third Day Grace Ministries, also pays some of the centre's bills.

The centre managed to keep its doors open and lights on during the winter after an anonymous donor some 300 kilometres away in Truro, N.S., prepaid Nova Scotia Power $10,000 to help cover the facility's power bills.

The centre had 150 children taking part in its programs during the school year.

"The community has to understand how important this place is for the health of the community," Barron said.

Barron and Ratchford said the federal or provincial governments should focus some attention on youth programs and provide core funding.

The directors said they plan to raise the issue with candidates running in the provincial election.

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