The Pit Stop: a home away from home for local youth

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Local youth could soon have a place to call their own.

“Planning it started a few months ago, after we lost another teenager to suicide. It seems to be happening at least a couple of times a year,” explained Heather Missen.

Missen, along with other concerned residents, is part of a committee dedicated to creating a youth  drop-in centre in Bonnyville that would be open to locals aged 14 to 18.

Their plan is to have the Pit Stop open from Thursday to Saturday, at least to start.

“We thought we would start something to give them an outlet if they wanted somewhere to go to hang out and do something,” Missen said. 

Saturday nights would be dedicated to hosting events, which will be organized by the youth for the youth.

Missen explained, “We will have a youth committee, which is a youth-driven concept, where there will be four small teams of four to six teens, each of them will be responsible for planning one Saturday per month.”

What they do those nights will be completely up to the youth involved in the planning, with volunteers there to supervise the event.

“They can host whatever event they want that Saturday, just to give them some sort of control over what they like to do on a Saturday night,” Missen added.

On Thursday and Friday, the youth centre will be open for board games, video games, movies, and sports, among other activities.

Until they can get a facility to call their own, the program will be located in the pit of Bonnyville Centralized High School, hence its name, The Pit Stop.

The idea was really a collaboration of residents concerned about the lack of activities for youth, Missen said.

“There’s really nothing for them to do in this town. You either get invited to a party or not, and that’s what they have to offer here. We really want to give them a safe space to go where they can socialize and not worry about social awkwardness or anything.”

With cyber-bullying, it’s even more vital that kids are getting out and socializing with their peers, stepping away from the screen and engaging in face-to-face contact.

“Connections really are the most important thing. Youth should be able to engage in in their community, and it’s really not happening,” expressed Missen.

Before the centre can open its doors, they need more volunteers to help supervise the centre.

They’re hoping to have at least 10 more adults sign-up before the end of the school year, which is when they want to have the program up and running.

“We would like to have at least two supervisors per evening. Hopefully we could have a male and female working each night, but it’s really difficult to do that when you only have the committee members. We need to expand that to more volunteers so we can have more of a revolving group of adults working in there,” noted Missen.

In order to volunteer, a person needs to be passionate about youth in the community, willing to engage them and work with them, as well as complete the mandatory criminal record check and vulnerable sector check.

“We’re looking for people who want to be there. They don’t need special requirements, they don’t need to be skilled in social work or anything like that,” Missen added. 

The committee hopes to expand the youth drop-in centre hours to six days per week, but in order to do that they need more man power, and hopefully their own facility.

Missen encourages people to at least give it a try. As someone who utilized a youth centre herself in the past, she knows what a difference it can make in a child’s life.

“I just remember when I was a teenager, I spent time at a youth drop-in centre in Sherwood Park where I lived, and the adults that worked there were so prominent in my life. I still talk to them to this day, they’re still people I reach out to and talk to whenever I can,” she said. “Those lasting impressions that you can have on a kid, they’re really special and really valuable. I think people that want to engage and help them with whatever they’re going through, I think could be a huge plus for them. It will give them something to do, they can give something back.”

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