originally published in Millstone News on Oct 14, 2016


Jeff Mills

A new youth centre is poised to open its doors in Mississippi Mills.  A rental agreement has been made, renovations are underway. Staffs are in place, and volunteer adult board members are coming forward.  Pretty cool stuff.  But this is only a fraction of the story. The really cool part is what is happening now. To “get off on the right foot,” an equal, parallel youth board is being set up to assure there is a strong youth voice included in future planning and decisions.

There are many models and graphics that illustrate levels of community participation. It’s worth a “google.” Many models have graphic illustrations depicting ladders or stairs with the preferred level being on the top rung or step.

One I just learned about is the “Ecuador Model for Community Participation.” There are tons of different ones and they all have similarities. This model starts with “co-option, coercion, consumption” on the bottom rung. “We are doing this for you!” Consumers have no real input or power: “Action ON.”

Next step is “Action FOR” or “Compliance.” Others set the agenda and direct the process. Moving up the ladder is “Action FOR/WITH” or “Consultation.” Being consulted, however others decide on a course of action.

Next is “Co-operation” or “Action WITH.” It’s more about partnerships and working with others to set priorities and a course of action. The final rung is “Collective Action or Co-Learning.” “Action BY” as in being in control with little or no input by others: “self-determination”.

A truly sustainable youth centre will need many voices and many hands to make it work. This kind of mixed board, adults and youth working together, has been used at many youth centres – even ones in Almonte’s past.

“It was here in Almonte (now Mississippi Mills), during a regional youth centre planning workshop, that we came up with the “parallel board” idea of co-leadership. It was a very exciting time when youth became directly involved in the management and program planning. Soon, these youth leaders were recognized by area government and service providers, and asked for their input on many different issues. Youth were being asked to be partners in their community” said Les Voakes, the new MMYC Executive Director.

Our interest is not in building a standalone youth “institution” but a truly welcoming place for local teens. The goal is for a safe space to hang out while providing opportunity for youth to engage through self-determination: built with youth, for youth. After all, a youth centre is more than bricks and mortar, it’s a community program that reaches out and welcomes in. Join the conversation. This weekend, check out our interactive community art piece at the Hub, “What do you want your youth centre to look like?”

Are you an adult or youth interested in investing in the great youth living in our community? Contact info.MMYC@gmail.com or join our Facebook @mississippimillsyouthcentre.

Be a part of the new Mississippi Mills youth centre.