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Friday, June 21, 2024
NOTL Youth Collective looking ahead to spring session
Owen Nzouankeu, left, and Liam Cadeau play an intense game of chess at the NOTL Youth Collective. Somer Slobodian

With the NOTL Youth Collective’s winter session wrapped up, volunteers are looking back and reflecting on the innovative centre’s first eight weeks of operation. 

About 110 NOTL young people registered at the collective since its inception, a number founder Caroline Polgrabia is more than happy with. 

“We said we want 200 youth of Niagara to pass through our doors in the first year,” she said.

“So we’re almost 50 per cent in our first eight weeks. So that’s good,” she added. 

Over the next few weeks volunteers will get together and discuss what the next steps are for the spring. Since the weather will be nice, there’s a good chance some of it will be outdoors. 

Lots went well over the first two months.

The collective had a huge turn out for its certification classes — 20 young people are now first aid certified, 36 babysitting certified and 34 are “home alone” certified. 

Many activities were a hit, especially chess, Polgrabia said.  

On a recent Wednesday night, Owen Nzouankeu and Liam Cadeau were going head-to-head in an intense game of chess on the far right side of the room. 

If they noticed the other kids yelling, playing basketball or competing in a rock paper scissors competition, it didn’t show.  

While some come to participate in activities, others come to relax with friends and lounge around after a long day of school.

Sophie Cadeau, a Grade 9 student from Governor Simcoe Secondary School in St. Catharines, visits the collective about once a week.

“I like the comfy couches (and) the piano is pretty cool,” Cadeau said as she ate food on one of the large couches. 

Polgrabia discovered that certain cohorts tend to stick together. As a result, she intends to do more activities and programs geared toward specific grade levels in the spring.

Also, anything that youth had to register for was a hit, said volunteer Brenda Ferguson. 

“Which I also think helped with planning because we knew what was coming,” she said. 

Some programs didn’t work as planned, like the NOTL Museum’s heritage moments program.

A member of the NOTL Museum came and presented an artifact from the museum and it was up to the young folks to spend a few weeks researching the object. They were then required to present their findings at the end of February.

“Conceptually, people didn’t understand what it was until they saw the end result,” Polgrabia said. 

That being said, it will run again now that it’s clear how it works. 

Ferguson also thinks that announcing what is coming earlier would be beneficial to not only the volunteers, but to the parents. 

If people know “what’s happening a little bit sooner, it’ll make people be able to put this into their schedule,” she said. 

Throughout its first eight weeks, the collective offered many programs, including chess night, book club and cooking.

For Valentine’s Day, 88 cards were made and sent to seniors in the community. 

“I think we’re only going up,” Ferguson said. 

Polgrabia is happy with how much the community has been involved from the start and hopes that continues.  

Not once has she had to reach out and ask people to get involved. Even before it launched, the group received a lot of support.

People have always reached out to her, Polgrabia said.

“People were donating to an idea and now I think people are seeing what is coming out of it,”  Ferguson said. 

The spring session is set to launch in mid-April, but it may look a bit different. 

Polgrabia isn’t sure if it will still be five days a week, or if they’ll explore other options, but that will be decided over the next few weeks. 

One thing she does know is that they’ll need more volunteers by the summer.

It is a lengthy process, so if anybody is interested in volunteering they’re encouraged to reach out to Polgrabia at info@notlyouth.com.

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