"It feels surreal," says Sheridan Sawatzky, Executive Director for YFC Altona - Youth Unlimited, at Friday's grand opening celebration for the organization's new, expanded facility.
After 22 years at the same location, it was announced in May 2021 that the organization was partnering with Friesens Corporation and would move to the former box plant building at the corner of 6th Street SE and 2nd Avenue SE. A fundraising effort launched that same month, and by December of that year, the necessary $500,000 required to renovate the 7,000 sq. ft. space had been reached.
"It feels like it's taken us a long time to get to this point, but at the same time it feels like just yesterday that we started," added Sawatzky. "So, it is a weird feeling to finally be at the point where we're open and having everything available to the teens, and the community can now see everything that we're doing. It's just really exciting."
Marty Falk is the Program Director at the centre. He said it's been fantastic to use the new space.
"The kids really love it. Originally, we thought maybe there would be some kids who would like the old space better, it was small and more intimate, and we really haven't any of that."
In May 2022, the hang-out/drop-in space was opened to the teens in the community with work continuing on the MakerSpace portion, which became fully operational in the last few weeks.
Sawatzky added, it's been great to expand on the drop-in program but noted, the MakerSpace was the catalyst for the major endeavour.
"Even in the few weeks that we've been operating, just seeing how teens have gravitated towards that, and skills they've never tried before, they're excited to try them and develop them more."
Falk added this new space will help further the work they do at the youth centre.
"There's a lot of teens in our community who don't have access to any of this, or they don't have people who will teach them these kinds of things," he said. "So, just the simple act of teaching kids how to read a tape measure, how to play the drums or strum a guitar, that just helps in building those relationships and that's where we get to interject God into everything that we're doing."
The first to deliver congratulations at Friday's small ceremony was Odia Reimer, VP of People and Culture at Friesens, on behalf of CEO Chad Friesen who sent his regrets.
“I just wanted to say a big thanks for inviting us here today. It’s a pleasure to be a part of what’s happening,” she said. “Our biggest desire is to see the community thrive and grow. When Chad heard that you were starting to work on the MakerSpace, that just felt so in line with his vision and his dream for the community and what he loves to do. So, he jumped right in with that and was able to provide you with the 7,000 square feet, which is so wonderful. We’re so excited we could do that for YFC.”
Harv Schroeder, mayor of the Town of Altona, was a part of the original board that brought YFC to Altona all those years ago.
“Thanks for inviting us here today to celebrate the new page of Altona YFC. Again, sometime between twenty-five and thirty years ago, I had the opportunity to be a part of YFC Altona,” he said. “Back then, the Town of Altona provided support to that youth drop-in center by offering the use of the old police station. And over the years, the Town has continued to support YFC in our community. Today's staff and board have worked higher, as you can see, to move the organization forward. On behalf of the Town Council and community, I wish you success in this great new space, and thank you for creating a positive and safe place for the young people of our community. I wish you all the best here.”
For Borderland MLA Josh Guenter, it was exciting to see the facility as it is today. A place where young people in this community can feel welcomed, loved, supported, and develop relationships.
"“They can, you know, have important conversations about profound subjects in life, develop life skills, and do things that they probably wouldn't do in school and things like that. So, it's really exciting to be here and with members of the community,” he explained.
Guenter added provincial dollars were accessed to help make this dream a reality.
“We had $25,000 for the Criminal Property Forfeiture Program come through, and in successive years. I was happy as the local MLA as well, to be able to advocate for some provincial dollars - $75,000 through the Building Sustainable Communities Fund, which you guys put in for. The fund is open every year for projects like this, but really, truly it is the community that came together in support of this.”
Speaking on behalf of the YFC Altona Board of Directors, Alvin Ginter, admitted the group was stunned when Sheridan came to them with this dream - and the $500,000 price tag.
"We're here to celebrate the vocation of this project together as a community. This facility is for the community, and it is our community that has brought this dream to reality. It is meant to be a safe place for young people from our community to hang out, build friendships with their peers and the staff and the volunteers. Being Godly examples to the young people that walk through these doors is a full focus of YFC.
We're excited to see what God will do here as relationships are built and mentoring in Godly living occurs,” he said.
Also at Friday's celebration was John Rempel representing YFC Canada.
“This wasn't a story that just started yesterday. It didn't just magically happen, right? And I've just been so thankful that you've got a team here, you've got a community here that believed in what was happening and you obviously recognize the needs for the days to come,” he said. “When this initially started, there were a lot of people across the country - depending on the season, but anywhere between 800 and 1,200 staff - when they heard Altona, this small community, was looking to raise a half million dollars, they said ‘that’s going to be a lot of work’. Then eight months later, we were able to communicate to the larger population that they’ve got that in place now, they were wondering if they could move to Altona just to fundraise because not every community gets it. This community must get it.”