For nearly three years, at risk youth in Saanich have been given the chance to avoid a criminal record and receive mentoring while completing community service at Commonwealth Place. This month marks a major evolution of that model – one that will now incorporate healthy activity and skills training at the rec centre as a part of the restorative justice process for kids.
When Saanich police refer youth to the John Howard Society of Victoria, an organization devoted to providing services to people in conflict with the law, they will be connected with a recreation programmer at Commonwealth Place.
Young people in trouble – though they can’t have a criminal record – must complete 15 to 30 hours of maintenance work at the centre. While the do, they’re also eligible to spend one-third of that time participating in recreation programs. Activities range from swimming and kayaking classes to job skills and first aid training.
“We’re trying to help them with those life skills that they can carry beyond their time here,” said Tom Bryce, manager of Commonwealth Place. “I believe that’s one of the keys to success: the relationships that are built through this process. I think somebody that feels comfortable and welcome is someone that tends to be more involved.”
Kim Fagerland, supervisor of the Saanich Community Justice Initiative, is an alternate measures counsellor for both adults and youth through John Howard. She attributes the success of community service participants to the role models at the centre who help the kids.
“I prefer to send kids there because the staff there are so understanding of youth and accept kids where they’re at,” Fagerland said. “I know that they’re going to be treated well, respected and challenged.”
Whether facing bullying at school or a divorce at home, Fagerland says all of the youth she sees are dealing with underlying problems. A large portion of the participants are males raised by single mothers, she added.
“That’s the frustration of my job,” she said. “Where are the men to step up and support these boys? We need men to step up and take responsibility for them. … There’s no good men in their lives and that’s why I like to send them to Commonwealth,” Fagerland said, lauding the mentorship of Bill Jamieson, building service supervisor and first contact youth make at the centre.
“(Youth) come in here after they’re done and you know them by their first name … and it’s kinda neat to strike up a conversation. These kids are really good,” Jamieson said. “I’m really impressed with the whole system.”
There are far more stories of success than there are failures, Jameison said.
Former participants have continued to volunteer beyond their obligations. At least one has secured employment as a result of his experience.
Fagerland added: “If you have a criminal record and you can’t get a job, what are we gong to do with these people? … When I see youth (at John Howard), I see it as a call for help.”
About 25 to 30 kids complete community service at the rec centre annually. Their participation in recreation programming, including a three-month Saanich Recreation Access Pass upon completion of the community service, is funded by Coast Capital Savings.