Nova Scotia

Cape Breton community centres aim to break cycle of addiction through family support

Two separate community groups in different parts of the island are constructing new facilities to offer support to families caught in the intergenerational trauma of addiction.

'Programming for kids, but also for parents and just really helping parents work with their own kids'

David Sawler, executive director of Undercurrent Youth Centre, stands in the centre's gym where lunches are put together for local youth in this file photo from July 2020. (Brittany Wentzell/CBC)

This story is part of a series by CBC Cape Breton examining the use of street drugs on the island. Click here to read more stories in this series.

Community groups in Cape Breton are responding to street drug use in their neighbourhoods.

They say the rehab programs offered by the Nova Scotia Health Authority are not doing enough. So, they're doing what they can to protect their communities.

Dave Sawler is the executive director of the Undercurrent Youth Centres in Glace Bay and New Waterford. The centres provide safe places for children and teens to hang out, play sports, make art, and take part in a wide range of programs. The centre in Glace Bay offered a free brunch program for kids in the summer months. 

Sawler believes prevention is the solution to keep kids from getting addicted to drugs. 

He's seen generations of addiction within families and said the way to break that cycle is to focus on preventing people from starting to use drugs rather than rehabilitation after they've become addicted.

"How come we've never been successful in bringing our opiate numbers down? How come we've never been successful in turning the economy of these communities around?" Sawler said.

"We've never tried to pull people out of cycles of poverty and addiction and doing that with our youth and kids and saving a generation at large-scale prevention is what brings long-term community change." 

He is working on building a new community centre in Glace Bay to serve families.

"Raising kids is kind of complicated; parents could use some encouragement and help. So, to offer some programming for kids, but also for parents and just really helping parents work with their own kids, but also giving them all a safe place to be together," said Sawler. 

Jim Mustard is a former Inverness County councillor, he's now with the non-profit group Raising the Villages. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

In Inverness, a group called Raising the Villages also wants to build community centres to serve the public.

It's a non-profit group that works to address child poverty. Jim Mustard is with the group. He wants to see community space where families can connect and get any support and guidance they need.

"It takes a village, a whole village to raise a child. Then where is the village? And if we can't find it, then we may be compelled to build it," Mustard said. 

"That space needs to include all the services, early intervention, family place resource. That base feels like it's so welcoming to you as a family and it has everything you need in one place. That way we can support the development of all children by helping to inform, educate and be that extended family."

Work continues on both community centres in Glace Bay and Inverness, with a goal of opening in 2022.


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