Editors note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Taylor Shewchuk in the photo cutline as Taylor Mayer.
ATHABASCA — Representatives from the Athabasca Teen Centre Society have made their municipal council rounds this November in an attempt to close a looming funding gap that could see the shelter temporarily close its doors in early 2024.
Justin Grell, coordinator for the Teen Centre, presented to Athabasca County council during their Nov. 30 meeting after attending the Town of Athabasca council meeting Nov. 21. Both councils voted unanimously to defer the request to their budget discussions.
“This is the first time in our 30 years of operation that we’ve had a funding gap,” said Grell, who’s been with the centre for over five years. The Teen Centre, located at 4705 48 Ave, is open Monday through Friday from 3:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., and provides local adolescents with a safe, warm space, food, entertainment, and camaraderie — all for no cost.
The centre serves between eight and 10 kids a day, but Grell said in the past week those numbers have climbed closer to 15 per day. In his presentation to county councillors, Grell estimated a third of the centre’s users live beyond the town’s corporate limits.
“I was a county kid,” said Coun. Natasha Kapitaniuk, who reminisced about spending time as a youngster at the original teen centre, located on 49 Street. “When I was a teen, that’s where I went to play pool when I’d be in town with nothing to do in the afternoons and evenings.
“Thank you again for doing what you do, just knowing that any person under the age of 18 can have a guaranteed meal, or snack, or place that’s safe — keep up the good work,” said Kapitaniuk.
Grell presented an ask of $12,600 to each council in the hopes that contributions from both municipalities will make up the approximate $25,000 gap in funding the centre is facing. The Teen Centre has been receiving support from other community organizations — a $500 donation by the Lions Club, monthly food bank donations from Good Samaritan, gift cards from the United Church, and a recent donation of sandwiches from the Pleasant Valley Lodge are valuable help, but Grell said it’s not enough to bridge the looming gap.
“This is the first time we’ve ever come across this, so we are making plans to change this in the future so it doesn’t happen again,” said Grell. The centre said in addition to more fundraising efforts such as raffles, they are hoping to make the switch from a registered charity to a registered non-profit.
“If you donate right now, you can get an advertising receipt and then you could write it off as a advertising expense because it would be good publicity,” said Grell. “But with a charity receipt, I think they’re a little easier.”
The Teen Centre’s funding gap is another long-term symptom of the COVID-19 pandemic. Changes to Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis’s charitable gaming casino fundraisers have left many community organizations in the region in a similar spot.
Wait times for casinos have increased from 12 months to 18 months, and with more organizations added to the list, Grell said he wouldn’t be surprised if waiting periods continue to lengthen.
The centre’s last casino date was Dec. 16, 2022, and their next scheduled event will take place in April, meaning if no funds are received before Jan. 1, 2024, the centre will have to close it’s doors until August.
“We’d like to stay open during the winter, because that’s when kids really need a warm place to go,” said Grell. “All the other things are nice, but a warm place to hang out is probably the biggest thing.”
During Grell’s presentations, councillors asked what other community groups they’ve approached for funds, and if any business or government youth programming grants are being accessed. Grell said the Teen Centre Society volunteers are in process of identifying grants for future funding to avoid similar situations in the future.
“Clearly it’s a valuable service,” said county reeve Brian Hall. “Your presentation package was thorough enough that council felt comfortable having viewed that to recommend sending this to the budget discussions for a look at how this will fit.”
“They do fulfill a need in the community, I agree with that, but I need some more time to make that final decision, personally,” said mayor Rob Balay.