At the beginning of March, Youth Rise expanded their programming into Alberta Avenue and Westwood.
“It’s exciting; it’s new territory for us,” says Mark Klassen, the north Edmonton area manager of Youth Rise. “We’ve always talked about expansion as an organization, and we are actively looking at continuing to expand into other areas of our city and even other cities eventually—that would be our big dream.”
The three-year-old organization works to empower and support youth by providing them with a safe space and community.
“We just felt like there are areas in our city that are under serviced and where there aren’t as many resources for youth, [especially youth] who are from communities that are more vulnerable and prone to high-risk factors,” Klassen says. “We exist to remove as many barriers as we can for youth to see them rise and become… full-fledged, healthy humans and citizens.”
Youth Rise’s headquarters is located in Millwoods, where the organization has a youth centre with a gym, a café, and a studio space. Youth can participate in activities like video games and ping pong.
The organization offers a variety of programs, including drop-in sessions where youth between the ages of 12 and 18 can stop by, play some games, play some sports, eat a free meal, and get to know the Youth Rise community.
Additional programs include job prep for high school students, a tutoring and homework help program, a junior leadership program, informal mentorship programs, and sports teams. This spring, Youth Rise is coaching U13 and U15 boys’ basketball teams and a U15 girls’ basketball team.
In Alberta Avenue, Hub Nights at the community league opened the conversation about finding more ways to support youth, and Youth Rise stepped in to fill that void. “[Alberta Avenue] is somewhere we’d like to be and do everything we can to see youth succeed,” says Klassen.
Currently, Youth Rise offers drop-in sessions on Thursdays from 4 to 6 pm at Alberta Avenue Community League. Youth can access most of the facility, including the gym, lounge area, and hall, and they can play sports, video games, and eat a free, hot meal.
Youth Rise is also hosting weekly Wednesday drop-in sessions from 4 to 6 pm at Vanguard College in Westwood. The focus is primarily on sports.
“The big part, especially with our drop-ins… is that we want them to be a safe space,” says Klassen. “There’s a lot of different circumstances that everyone comes from, and oftentimes you have no idea what kind of home life [youth] have or what school is like for them.”
“So what we seek to be is a safe space where they know that they’re going to have caring adults that love them, that are intentional in getting to know them, and that… they’re going to get food in their bellies.”
So far, about five to 10 kids have attended the drop-in sessions, and Klassen is confident more people will continue to come. “Every week, there’s one or two new kids and they bring a friend,” he says. “It just snowballs like that. So, it’s been exactly on par for what we expect. It’s not busting at the seams right now, but slowly [and] steadily, it will continue to grow.”
Klassen says he hopes that youth leave the programs knowing that they are loved, cared for, and valued. But most of all, he hopes that they get the chance to have fun and connect with others.
“Just come and be a kid, shoot a basketball around, throw a dodgeball, play video games,” says Klassen. “You’re not being judged. There’s other kids here. You get to just play and be free.”