Commentary by John Borst, editor Dryden Rotary News and We the Northwest News and Views
 

We have all heard the meme “It takes a village to raise a child.” We are also prone to nod in agreement and then go on about our business of living and forgetting about the kid who goes to school without having breakfast and hasn’t got a lunch to eat, or the teen who hangs out downtown or at school staying away from home as long as possible.  But in a small city like Dryden even youngsters with three meals a day and a loving home can suffer from anxiety, loneliness or fear of their peers.  

 

 
During the summer of 2019 such children had a place to go to safely be with others their age while having a young trained professional nearby. The place was the Youth Centre at 113 Albert St. It had been established with the Kenora District Services Board (KDSB) supplying the building and the Kenora Patricia District School Board (KPDSB) funding the social worker under the auspices of a subcommittee on youth of the Community Safety and Well-Being Plan (CSWB) Steering Committee.  
 
Dryden was mandated by Bill 175 Safer Ontario Act 2017 to form the CSWB committee. Some of the representatives who sit on the steering committee represent Dryden Regional Health Centre (DRHC), Northwestern Health Unit (NWHU), Dryden Police Services (DPS), Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), and Fire Fly. In March at its meeting on the 25th, DPS Constable Anne Tkachyk reported to Council on the CSWB’s progress and mentioned the formation of a youth focused sub-committee. 
 
This was wise because in 2018 the province through the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services released a report which showed that in Northwestern Ontario children aged 12 – 17 had the highest risk factors of all age groups. 
 

And these are the greatest risks: 

At the end of August Tkachyk and Vanessa Shepherd of the KDSB spoke to The Rotary Club of Dryden describing the lack of funding crisis which has caused the closing of the Youth Centre. At this week’s COTW of Dryden Council Tkachyk and Shepherd made the same presentation.  
 
 
What followed was unusual. Normally, discussion does not occur after a presentation. In this case Councilor Shayne MacKinnon spoke with passion that Council use income from the Municipal Accommodation Tax (MAT) to fund a staff person as quickly as possible, while Councilor Norm Bush countered with a caution on our need to finish paying down our debt situation.  
 
Two features appear missing from this picture. One is leadership and the recognition that all sectors benefit financially by reducing the risk factors for our children and youth.  
 
Rather than expecting The City of Dryden to provide all of the salary for a social worker to support a Youth Centre, a cost I estimate at $50,000 per year, it seems more logical, since all agencies benefit from reducing the risk of using their services that all of them should share in the cost of funding a staff person. 
 
Where is the CEO who can call all of the agencies together to create a consortium to fund a Youth Centre for 2019-20?  Surely, each of the agencies listed above can fine $5000.00 from their considerable budgets. Counting the City of Dryden this would amount to $30,000. I know there are other organizations on the Steering Committee. In addition, the Northwest Catholic District School Board and the CSDC des Aurores boréales should be invited to join such a consortium as they too would benefit.  We should also not forget to include our two First Nation communities whose students attend Dryden High School as well as the Dryden Native Friendship Centre whose services complement other agencies in this group. 
 
The province suggests that a community's CSWB plan ought to “Challenge institutional boundaries and organizational culture at the systemic level”. This is where a Chamber of Commerce, Dryden’s Young Professionals Group and service organizations like Rotary come in.
 
Although Rotary’s considerable funds from Rotary Radio Bingo proceeds, by the rules of its lottery license, cannot be used to fund salaries, they too need to be challenged to find a way to support the “safety and well-being” of our youth.   
 
In 2013-14 Rotary was asked by citizens to facilitate a meeting to restart a way to get new seniors housing built in the city. The result today is the building now under construction at the corner of Van Horne and Wabigoon Dr. It would be unorthodox but maybe they could play such a role during this more urgent community crisis.  
 
This would permit the community time to find a more permanent way to fund a youth centre. One solution would be to establish a Youth Wellness Hub with funding from the Province.  Their goal is "...to serve as fully integrated “one-stop-shops” for youth aged 12-25, to address their needs related to mental health, substance use, primary care, education/employment/training, housing and other community and social services. " Sounds exactly like Dryden's CSWB's goal for a Youth Centre. 
 
When Dryden's CSWB youth sub-committee started the summer Youth Centre they thought they had in place the funding for the September 2019 to June 2020 period. However, a new populace government making hasty decisions without a thought to local needs rendered that plan obsolete. Now we have to find a new path, one that very much depends on us working together not only for the good of each organisation but more importantly for the good of the community as a whole.
Sponsors