Behind the rock wall

Youth for Christ explains their programming and growth in the past few years

Youth for Christ's (YFC) decision to build near the North End has stirred up some controversy.

YFC addresses the Winnipeg community’s questions around the purpose of the organization as well as any stigmas that come with its name and history. YFC is a faith-based not-for-profit in Winnipeg, running for over 60 years. According to a report, written by Amber Skrabek, the director of communications for the organization, YFC is not a church, but it works with churches, schools and other services that help teenagers.

In 2014, CBC reported that YFC broke its promises by not serving aboriginal youth in the Point Douglas community due to cost and limited hours of operation. The YFC building is located on King Street and has since updated their goals to providing “ongoing relationships with caring adults” and “opportunities to give back through community service.”

“I’ve never really seen any staff or people from that organization engaging kids in the neighbourhood. I’ve never heard of any kids in my neighbourhood say, ‘Oh yeah, I was bored, and I went out and did some rock climbing,’” Talia Syrie, the owner of The Tallest Poppy and a local community member, says.

She thinks that one of the reasons that people may be thrown off or feel unwelcome by YFC and their programs is the Christian label being placed upon all of their work. This label might make children feel “uncomfortable,” she says.

Skrabek says that although Christianity is mentioned in the organization’s title, it accepts youth from all religions to participate in their programming.

“We are open to all youth of any backgrounds. We have a lot of people from everywhere, who believe everything,” she says.

Skrabek says that their goal is to make sure there is an activity for all youth that attend programming, such as the Edge Skatepark. Workers and volunteers maintain the safety of the area by placing all spectators in the viewing area, rather than having them on the floor with the teens.

This space is used mainly in the winter, and volunteers take the kids to local skate parks during summer. Other programs include the Masterworks dance studio, counselling for teen parents, after-school soccer programs, a rock climbing wall and Workforce, which helps older youth prepare for future jobs.

Skrabek adds that there were approximately 9,000 kids in programs at YFC in 2017.

“To be able to centralize a lot of our programs, and to be just at the centre of the city and at the cusp of the North End, I think has really made us available to more kids,” she says.

The director of communications position, created one year ago and now held by Skrabek, was made for the sole purpose of reaching out to the community so they know what YFC is doing.

Skrabek says being a not-for-profit places some limitations on the organization. All programs are funded by donors, funds are not used toward advertising, and workers must personally reach out to donors, such as friends and family members to create their salaries before they begin to work at YFC.

Right now, YFC is trying to reach out to inner-city schools, to allow them to  hold their physical education classes at the YFC building.

Published in Volume 72, Number 21 of The Uniter (March 15, 2018)

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