Shock, fear and then action.
Those were the responses of a group of local youths when they were informed June 26 of the closure of the Chillaxin Youth Centre.
Chillaxin youth counselor Moon Pellett said the centre is being forced to close because of a federal government funding freeze.
Pellett said that after the initial shock of the announcement, the 38 youths and adults attending the June 26 meeting resolved to take action.
“The room was full of sadness, memories and most of all anticipation of what’s next. As a group, we wrote letters of impact to send to the government to show the reality of their actions.”
Some of the questions youths were asked to address in their letters included:
What way are you involved with the Chillaxin Youth Program?
How long have you been involved with the Chillaxin Youth Program?
What does the closure of the Chillaxin Youth Program mean to you?
What are some of your immediate concerns due to the Chillaxin Youth Program closure?
What do you feel the long-term effects will be on our community due to the closure of the Chillaxin Youth Program?
The letters will be sent to the National Association of Friendship Centres and to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development John Duncan and BC Premier Christy Clark.
During a brainstorming session on June 26, Pellet said the group also decided to create a YouTube video featuring past and present Chillaxin participants.
“Key points will focus on how Chillaxin Youth programming played a role in their successes,” Pellet told the News. “With the youth in attendance, the video will focus on what this means for them, what the future will hold, as they will no longer have a place to call their own that will allow them to heal, grow and learn new skills while focusing and embracing the beauty of our culture. We have also placed petitions throughout town and are asking our community to sign them.”
Last month, the federal government announced a $3-million funding freeze to the longstanding Cultural Connections for Aboriginal Youth (CCAY) program.
Pellet said that decision was made “even though the Government of Canada made a commitment to support vulnerable Aboriginal youth through the CCAY initiative in the budget for 2012-13.”
She described the CCAY program as a job-readiness strategy and a crime prevention initiative that “saves lives and keeps Aboriginal youth off the streets and on the path to wellness, economic security and independence.
“Frozen CCAY funds will cost Canadians in time, money, and most importantly, young Aboriginal lives,” she added.
Formal notice of the funding cut came from Federal Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development John Duncan on June 12 and is retroactive to Apr. 12 of this year. According to the British Columbia Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres, the retroactive nature of the funding cut means any funds expended by CCAY-funded organizations during the first quarter of this fiscal year will not be reimbursed, leaving Aboriginal agencies scrambling to find money to cover their expenses.
Pellett concluded, “While we recognize that it is important to the Government of Canada to re-align the terms and conditions of this essential program with new priorities, it is equally essential that we plan and prepare for changes ahead of time without creating a gap in services, or placing a financial burden on our social service agencies.”
The Chillaxin Youth Centre (its name combined the words chillin’ and relaxin’) operated under the auspices of the Lillooet Friendship Centre. It was established in 2003.