Weechi-it-te-win Family Services hosted their grand opening for their revamped Ganawendaasowin Youth Treatment program today.
In Dec. 2014, the organization’s board of directors agreed to terminate their lease and move the program to where it is now on 71 McTavish Road.
Ganawendaasowin Team Lead, Crystal Smith, said that the new location for the treatment program is a better suited for its clients, who are ages 12-17.
“Our previous facility was near a couple of cliffs. It was right on the highway and it just wasn’t safe because there were so many unknowns around in that area where the kids could take off and potentially hurt themselves,” she explained.
“This place we have here now, the lot has been really well-maintained. We have a great big space for the kids to play in.”
Smith added that in time they will be moving their assessment home, which is currently downtown, to the McTavish location as well as building a baseball field and/or a basketball court for the kids to play.
As well as changing locations, Smith indicated that there have been some other improvements made to the program.
These changes include a tighter schedule for the youth during, having youth enrol in a mandatory 30-day treatment period in the downtown location, and having employees possess knowledge of clients before they enter the treatment home.
“We have to make sure they come through the 30-day assessment home first, before the treatment program, that way it decreases the high risk behaviours,” Smith explained.
“It also increases the resilience in the youth that require stabilization. So, once they’re done there, they come [to the treatment centre] for up to 90- 120 days,” she added.
The new treatment centre can hold up to 12 people, which is less than before, but Smith said it can be seen as an advantage because it leaves for more room to focus on individual rehabilitation.
While in the treatment centre, youth will undergo a revised life skills lesson plan, which deals with issues on anything from healthy relationships and substance abuse to budgeting and job readiness.
But, Smith said that the program’s ability to integrate First Nation’s culture is what makes it so unique.
“When the kids come here, sometimes they don’t come here with an Anishinaabe name . . . they follow a different belief, so when they come here, they are learning about both,” she stressed.
“We make those arrangements for them so they aren’t cut off from what they were brought up to believe. It’s just kind of opening up different things for them to learn while they are here,” added Smith.
She said that as part of the recreation and life skills component, the program has a residential counsellor who is trained in outdoor survival, giving kids the chance to learn how to live off the land.
Youth will also have lessons from elders, which will include topics such as rights of passage and the cultural roles of men and women.
“It gives them a foundation. We try to build that foundation within themselves before they leave here and we give them the appropriate skills for coping,” Smith said of the cultural education.
“Having that cultural background for them helps build that foundation and hopefully they are stronger people than when they leave here. That’s our goal,” she added.
Organizers were hoping for as many people to attend their grand opening as possible.
“What we hope is our neighbours around this Devlin—La Vallee Township come and meet us and tour the facility and meet the kids and just have a better understanding of who we are and what kind of services we provide,” she urged.
The open house ran at the McTavish Road location from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. and included a formal ribbon-cutting, a tour of the facility, meeting the staff of the program, door prizes, a PowerPoint presentation, and complimentary snacks and refreshments.