Neighbourhood house empowers thousands of local youth with crucial life skills

February 10, 2021 / by United Way

Quadra Village Community Centre prepares youth in one of Victoria’s most financially hard-hit neighbourhoods with employment and leadership skills they need to succeed in adulthood

By Emily Fagan
Capital Daily

February 5, 2021

During the holidays, Capital Daily readers raised $150,000 to donate to neighbourhood houses across Greater Victoria. Today, we bring you the first of three stories about what that money supported.

Surrounded by a room full of her peers, 14-year-old August found herself unable to say a word. It was her first meeting of “the Crew,” a leadership and pre-employment training group run through the Quadra Village Community Centre.

August, a shy, homeschooled teen who rarely left home, had signed up for the Crew for the volunteer experience. In that meeting, she found herself unable to meet the eyes of the other teens—instead, she spent the whole time studying her hands.

But that wouldn’t be the case for long. August credits programs she participated in at the community centre, especially the Crew, for allowing her to explore her personality and gain confidence in herself.

“By the end of [my time] actively participating in the programs, I was really confident,” she said. “I wasn’t really afraid of anything.”

The Quadra Village Community Centre has been a fixture in August’s life since she was first enrolled in their programs at three years old.

“I probably wouldn’t have gotten where I am without Quadra Village,” said August, now 21 and completing her first internship. She grew up right across the street from the community centre, in the largest low-income housing complex in Victoria.

Among nine other neighbourhood houses in Greater Victoria, the Quadra Village Community Centre was recently a co-recipient of the Capital Daily Holiday Donation Drive, which raised over $150,000 in partnership with United Way.

The community centre touches the lives of thousands of youth around Victoria each year through the youth drop-in centre, counselling, specialized programs, and other outreach initiatives in local middle schools and high schools.

“I’ve been at the community centre for 10 years now, and I’ve seen some kids that were nearly four years old when I first got there,” said Kelly Greenwell, Executive Director. Over his time at the community centre, Greenwell has seen these kids grow and develop into young adults. “They’re making gains all the time in terms of being able to take positive steps for themselves.”

It isn’t always an easy journey for those in the programs, Greenwell said, but it’s the responsibility of his team to support and guide the youth through difficult situations.

In addition to the Crew, which ran bottle drives, community dinners, and barbeque fundraisers, August joined the Food Skills for Youth program. The program taught her to develop customer-service skills through running a food cart with other neighbourhood teens for minimum wage. She didn’t have the resources at home to develop cooking skills, she said, but the teen centre kitchen provided the tools for her to learn to prepare meals from scratch.

By the end of her adolescence, August had been involved in nearly every group open to her at the community centre.

The moment August is most proud of came at the end of her time in the community centre programs when she was chosen to join the Coast Capital Youth Community Council, a group that funds youth programs around the island. It was Quadra Village Community Centre’s Youth Programs Coordinator, Tara Skobel, who pushed her to apply, looked over her resume, and helped her get interview-ready. August was the youngest councillor ever selected at the time, and said her two years on the council were a great learning opportunity—especially as it allowed her to support programs that she had benefited from.

Out of the neighbourhoods in Greater Victoria, Hillside-Quadra is rated 77th out of 78 in terms of neighbourhood financial health. Many of the youth accessing the community centre’s programs, like August, have experienced socioeconomic challenges and instability.

“Quadra Village is really unique because it [encompasses] such a wide range of youth in terms of socioeconomic backgrounds,” August said. Although she considers Victoria a predominantly white, middle-class city, at the community centre she was surrounded by Black and Indigenous kids, and other people of colour, along with other youth who grew up in low-income households.

“I don’t think a lot of [Victoria] communities have that element of such a diverse group of people that are struggling to get by.”

For Greenwell, the main intention of the centre’s youth programs is to offer a safe, supportive space to build skills that aim to help them overcome generational poverty.

“[We aim to] help youth have the skills they need in life so that they can survive economically out there in the world,” he said. “And show them what’s possible.”

Some of these support programs also focus on mental health. There is an anxiety group, counselling, and specialized mental health services for those in need of greater resources.

For those that age out of the youth programs, volunteers and staff are also around to support young adults in the community with many of the unique challenges they might face in the next steps of their lives, including finding housing or living with roommates for the first time. Their bursary program offers a grant of up to $500 for youth graduating from high school and making their way as young adults.

When August moved out on her own to start at Camosun, the bursary helped fund her tuition. The team at Quadra Village also sent her opportunities for scholarships and job applications, which she appreciated as she was “pretty broke.” Greenwell said that the pandemic has been a crucial time for supporting youth and families to ensure they don’t fall through the cracks—like several other neighbourhood houses, they offer food security programs and emergency funding.

The donations and other funding the Quadra Village Community Centre uses to continue their programs isn’t always predictable, and towards the end of 2020 Greenwell was unsure if some of their resources—such as the Youth Outreach staff—would have full funding to continue.

Now, thanks to United Way and the Capital Daily Holiday Donation Drive, this is no longer an immediate concern. The majority of this funding will go directly towards the community centre’s youth outreach.

“It’s a sigh of relief to know that we are able to carry the work forward with a full-time position for the bulk of the next year,” Greenwell said.

For August, the years she spent in these programs will be something she’ll continue to look back on fondly—and has given her confidence she’ll carry with her into adulthood.

“I think the biggest thing honestly is that they really try to make you believe in yourself,” she said, “because there’s a whole world out there that doesn’t want you to.”

Quadra Village Community Centre is one of 10 local Neighbourhood Houses in Greater Victoria benefitting from a partnership between Capital Daily and United Way which raised more than $150,000 to help families, children, youth and parents in our community. Over 500 donors stepped up in the last two weeks of December 2020 to make this fundraising campaign a success. This is just one example of how your gift is making a difference in the lives of individuals in a neighbourhood near you.