The youth crime prevention and skill-building program Project Sunset is in its final year of government funding, but there's hope it will continue on in the future.
“I'm pretty excited about some of the prospects that we have for carrying the project forward,” enthused Project Sunset senior youth engagement co-ordinator Lincoln Dunn.
“We have several community partners in each of the areas [it's offered] who have come forward and are interested in taking on the project, at least in the short term.”
Dunn said an announcement will be made in the near future regarding the scope of the program's future.
Project Sunset has been offered to students in Grades 5-8 at Crossroads School since 2017 and provides fun learning experiences aimed at proactively addressing the root causes of youth crime, social disorder, and crisis.
The project's school year programming started back up in mid-September, following a summer break packed with activities.
“We doubled our programming this summer," said Dunn. "We did two days a week with the kids in Fort Frances, Dryden, and Kenora.”
Each week, Project Sunset participants did one day of canoeing and one day of land-based activities, such as tent setup and axe-saw handling.
“I am so proud of the skills they developed," Dunn enthused. ”
They worked really hard and we have some pretty talented paddlers in this crew."
All Project Sunset's programming through the summer culminated into two group trips for its participants.
Students from Crossroads School went to Caliper Lake for a two-day canoeing and camping trip as well as an annual four-day Quetico Provincial Park trip where they were joined by students from Kenora and Dryden.
A total of 25 kids attended the Quetico trip in addition to 15 facilitators.
“It was really wet and really windy. The weather didn't co-operate but the kids sure did," Dunn lauded. ”It was a fantastic trip.
“We didn't get a chance to do much canoeing because of the weather and the wind but we did get to do some fishing and hiking,” he added.
This winter kids in the program will again be snowshoeing and using the seasonal ice rink outside of Crossroads School to hone their skating skills.
“One of the purposes of Project Sunset is to provide kids with the opportunity to build skill sets gradually, so you're not throwing them into the pit,” Dunn explained.
“You're giving them the chance to challenge themselves by choice and build the skills at the rate they feel that they have the capacity,” he added.
Project Sunset follows a prescribed curriculum through the school year, designed to prevent substance misuse and related problems, said Dunn.
This is done through engaging youth with classroom-based problem-solving, outdoor experiential activities, and community-oriented service learning.
“The number of the benefits I've seen for students who have gone through this program—in my opinion—are countless,” Dunn noted.
“It's developing resiliency in these kids; it's developing self-awareness, and a wide range of strengths that's creating a much more positive environment at home, at school, and in the community.”
Dunn said the program has helps kids build up their self value and determination, so as they get older, they can make good choices in situations of crisis.
As well, Project Sunset participants have built strong and lasting relationships with trusted community members, facilitators, and partners who they can call on down the road when challenged with risky behaviour.
Dunn said the phrase “at risk youth” might be one of the most overused terms today when discussing young people's successful transition into adulthood.
“That's not a term I like, and the reason I don't like it is because every child is an 'at risk youth,'" he explained. "Every one of our young people is one decision away from being at risk.”
In an ideal world, Dunn said he'd like to see Project Sunset offered everywhere and is grateful to be a part of it.
“It has been one of the highlights of my life seeing the difference Project Sunset has made in the lives of these kids,” he enthused.
"I've seen some incredible leadership skills that the students have developed.
“I've watched them step outside of their comfort zone to challenge themselves to try new things and take on new challenges in kids who, quite frankly, I never would have expected prior to starting this program,” Dunn added.
He told the Times the project's community partners can't be thanked enough for helping deliver the program, including the Gizhewaadiziwin Health Access Centre, Treaty #3 Police, and Naicatchewenin First Nation,
“They have all been significant contributors to how successful this program is and we really, in so many ways, couldn't do it without them,” Dunn stressed.
“I'm just grateful that we've had the chance to do this and I hope that we continue to have a way to keep it going.”