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Youth collective's first sessions 'exceeded expectations'

Caroline Polgrabia of the NOTL Youth Collective spoke of the success of the first sessions at The Lounge at 124 on Queen recently.

With the Niagara-on-the-Lake Youth Collective taking a much-needed break, Caroline Polgrabia, chair of the collective’s planning committee, took a moment to reflect on the first eight weeks of running programs for the town’s young people.

Unveiled at a presentation to an audience of community supporters at the new 124 on Queen Hotel and Spa last week, the numbers are indeed impressive. 

Since they opened their doors on Jan. 16, 112 young people have signed up to participate in Youth Collective programs and activities, while volunteers have already amassed 563 hours supervising kids at the Cornerstone Community Church location, known as the Youth Campus. 

Polgrabia pointed out, though, that that number doesn’t reflect the hours spent behind the scenes on program planning, administration, youth registration, assessing volunteer applications and other important tasks. 

“This is all done through the community rallying around this idea,” Polgrabia told the group. “The recognition has to go to the group of parents, mostly, who got this going. They got together and thought about how we could activate the space, how we could make it great.”

“It was intensive,” Polgrabia admitted. “You’re dealing with kids, and kids are messy, people are messy. It’s not an easy thing to stand up there and take care of other people’s kids, and they did it. I thank them for that.”

One of the keys to success, she added, has been consistency. During the eight-week sessions the organization ran daily after-
school drop-ins and one evening event each week. There have also been a number of social events and movie nights.

She went on to thank the NOTL community as a whole for “coming out of the woodwork to support our kids,” and specifically lauded NOTL Realty for their sponsorship of the Santa Run this winter, as well as Ruffino’s Pizza With Santa event, which helped raise $5,000 for the collective. 

With the help of The Garrison House and the NOTL Lions, 385 healthy snacks and 100 snacks-plus-meals on Wednesday evenings were provided to participants.

The NOTL Public Library has donated more than 200 books for the Youth Collective’s little library as well as three desktop computers for the students to use while there. 

Polgrabia pointed out the participants in the collective have already earned 90 certificates, including 34 Home SAFE, 36 Babysitter and 20 First Aid certificates. As well, they’ve welcomed 20 local experts to give talks and lead programs and events. 

The breather being taken now will give those involved a chance to look at what worked, what didn’t, and what the possibilities are to expand the program starting up again in April. 

“We’re going to do a spring session,” said Polgrabia. “I don’t know what it looks like yet. Will we do a five-day program? Will we run movie nights? Will we run chess nights? Yeah, probably, but we have to sit down and figure out what that looks like.”

After holding their NOTL Heritage Moments - Youth Curators Contest in partnership with the NOTL Museum, they are looking forward to continuing that relationship, as well as expanding a partnership with the Shaw Festival to get kids into the theatre and bring people from Shaw to the collective, and work with the Niagara Pumphouse Arts Centre.

“And we’re looking at the teens doing food safety and Smart Serve training.”

Polgrabia said the goal for this year was to involve 200 unique registrants in the collective programs, and with 112 already signed up, they are halfway to that target. 

“In the absence of having a high school in town, we wanted to have a safe place for kids to come together to connect and to network,” she said. “From the moment we opened the doors it took on a life of its own. I think we’ve exceeded our own expectations.”

Mike Balsom

About the Author: Mike Balsom

With a background in radio and television, Mike Balsom has been covering news and events across the Niagara Region for more than 35 years
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