Organization aims to be a welcoming, positive place for area teens
A new youth group is about to launch in Niagara-on-the-Lake, at St. Davids-Queenston United Church on York Road.
Known as Safe Haven, the new youth group is geared for teens between 13 and 17 years of age.
Like the new Virgil-based NOTL Youth Collective, it has been in the works for a long time.
When Rev. YongSeok Baek became the new minister at St. Davids-Queenston in the late summer of 2021, a priority was to start a youth group at the church where teens could hang out. He, along with a core group of volunteers, have been planning it ever since.
Among those assisting Baek in establishing the group are Nancy Lang, the church’s chair of Christian education, and Maya Gazzard, a NOTL teen and the church’s Sunday school teacher.
In an interview, Baek explained how the St. Davids Youth Group got started.
“I met many times with Maya during coffee times at church to get her views on what the youth of Niagara-on-the-Lake desire. She had many good ideas.”
“Maya explained that her and her friends do not have many places or the time to hang out. They congregate at the mall where there is free wifi, at Tim Hortons and in the area parks when the weather is good,” he said.
“Maya also explained that some of her friends have concerns with gender identity and how they are perceived and need a safe, positive space to go to.”
Baek’s conclusion from those discussions was that the church could provide a safe, warm and welcoming space for youth to come and play and hang out – a safe haven.
NOTL Coun. Adriana Vizarri, a St. Davids resident, was pleased to see such “much-needed youth programming” being established.
“We have an amazing growing community with many new young families that appreciate and support a youth hub. We hope to continue this with a future municipal facility,” she said in an email.
The new organization is not a spiritual group as not all youth practise a religious faith.
The first step was to obtain a seed grant from the United Church Foundation to purchase items for the teens to use while at the church.
They included musical instruments, tablet computers, board and video games, a ping-pong table, an air hockey game, and various pieces of lounging furniture.
Baek hopes to provide a safe and welcoming space where teens can gather to do what teens do best – play and hang out with friends.
Baek outlined how the facility will be set up during youth group meetings at church board’s January meeting, saying, “There will be different theme centres, including a music section, e-table (with iPads, etc.), a game section (Nintendo, TV), a sports section (ping pong, foosball, air hockey), and a snack section and a quiet area where the kids can just sit and talk or do homework.”
The first meeting for Safe Haven will be this Friday, Feb. 3 from 6 to 9 p.m. The group will meet the first and third Friday of each month. Teens will need to register in advance and attendance will be taken.
In an email, Gazzard, 16, said, “I’m excited about Safe Haven because there are no places for kids like me to just hang out and to have a space where they can eat, laugh and do activities together.”
“There are lots of things to do for lots of people – like musical instruments, a projector for movies, foosball and ping-pong tables, board games etc.”
“We are trying to offer a space for teens to go where they can hang out and feel safe and accepted without judgment. Our space is LGBTQIA2+ friendly.”
“The space on York Road is large, comfortable and convenient for teens in the St. Davids, Queenston, Glendale and Niagara Falls areas,” she said.
“I’m sure parents would also appreciate a safe space for teens to hang out while they go to dinner or a movie on Friday night.”