Hinton Friendship Centre: Offering Indigenous youth a safe space

The Hinton Friendship Centre has been operating a youth group for many years. Recently, they have been focusing on at-risk and Indigenous youth ages eight years and older. The group gets together to hang out, make crafts and learn traditional land-based lessons.

At first, Stacey Cherry, the Youth Program Coordinator at the Hinton Friendship Centre, and Rayelle Groat, Assistant Youth Worker, found it hard to offer traditional teachings for the youth. She had to put herself outside of her comfort zone to connect with Elders and Indigenous families in the community to see if they would be willing to work with her. She was thrilled that Elders were willing to connect with the youth and offer their knowledge to the group.

During COVID, Stacey worked hard to keep the group connected. Through a Communities ChooseWell grant, they offered the youth an online healthy snack cooking class. They got together twice a week over zoom and made easy snacks, like fruit salad or banana chocolate chip muffins. In the second meeting of the week, they did crafts or just socialized. Stacey also encouraged everyone to get outside as much as possible to avoid spending too much time in front of their computer screens.

Once the group was allowed to meet in person, they seized the opportunity. Stacey divided the group into smaller units, and they stayed outside until October. One of the most memorable activities they did over the summer was to participate in a sunrise ceremony in August as the last hurrah before school began again. They worked with an Elder, who climbed a nice hill at 5 am on a weekend to offer traditional teachings and ceremonies. Although the clouds blocked the sunrise, it was an experience her group would not soon forget.

“We’re planning on doing two this summer,” explains Stacey. “One at the beginning of summer break and one at the end. The kids are so excited.”

One of the biggest takeaways she hopes the kids who come to her youth group have is that they always have a safe space to come to. While home or school might not be a safe space for everyone, she hopes she is able to offer one at the centre. She is always there with open ears to her youth, and if the kids do not want to speak to her, she ensures that there is someone always there to speak with.

As a member of the recreation community for several years, winning a Communities ChooseWell Most Significant Change Award means so much to Stacey. The youth are so excited to have won this award, and it means a lot to them as well.

Moving forward, the group started a youth council, and the children are having a say in the programming that is being offered at the centre. Stacey believes in giving the youth autonomy to decide the programming, and she believes that autonomy really helps them coming back again and again, finding a safe space among friends.