By Vanessa Broadbent
For years, the Oliver Youth Centre has been providing a space for young people to hang out, to spend time out of the cold and out of the house.
Now, the Oliver-Osoyoos branch of the Okanagan Boys and Girls Club is expanding the service to Osoyoos as well.
TGIS (thank goodness it’s Saturday) Youth Drop-In, a new program for youth between the ages of 13 and 19, is open every other Saturday evening at the Sonora Community Centre in Osoyoos.
The program will be similar to the one in Oliver, which has been running since 2009.
Featuring everything from video games and foosball, to floor hockey and skateboarding, the Oliver program has attracted up to 50 attendees, and Laurene Sloboda, director of the Osoyoos and Oliver Okanagan Boys and Girls Club, said a need for a similar program was identified in Osoyoos.
The program has been operating since September, but Sloboda hopes to increase awareness about it and bring in more participants.
“We’re really trying to grow it and make it a space where kids want to come,” she said. “We don’t want to structure it too much. We want to keep it a place where kids can just go and hang out, out of the cold, if they want.”
The program is run by Jorge Pocaterra Solvason, a former participant in the Oliver Youth Centre that started attending at the age of 15.
“It’s close to his heart,” Sloboda said. “He’s grown up with the program and he really gets what it’s about.”
Pocaterra Solvason is one of many kids that started attending the program and ended up volunteering with it.
“We’ve had kids that have grown up there,” Sloboda said.
Gary Saran, who oversees the Club’s youth programs and worked with Pocaterra Solvason as a youth, said that with Oliver being a smaller town, sometimes its youth have a hard time keeping busy, especially during the colder months.
“During winter, there’s nothing to do out here,” he said. “It’s just a place for them to go and hang out so they’re not just on the streets and wandering around.”
And along with keeping them busy, the program also gives youth the opportunity to learn more about the Club and access its other services if needed. Saran said it’s common for him to connect kids with counsellors.
But the main goal of the program is just to give the kids a place to hang out – something that Sloboda said many of them don’t have.
“Maybe home isn’t super safe for them or maybe they just need to escape and have a break and just hang out with their friends. These are the kinds of kids we find are coming down to the Hangar in Oliver.”
At this point, the Club only runs programs in Oliver and Osoyoos but Sloboda said a youth program for Keremeos is currently in the works.
The next TGIS Youth Drop In is this Saturday from 5 to 9 p.m. at the Sonora Community Centre in Osoyoos, located on 68th Avenue.
The Club also runs Club 10-16, an after school drop-in program for youth ages 10-16 on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 2:30 to 5 p.m at the Senora Community Centre.
The Oliver Youth Centre will continue to operate every Friday from 3 to 10 p.m. at the Air Cadet Hangar on Cessna Street.