Youth program to close

A program intended to help and support at-risk youth in Salmon Arm will be coming to an end this summer unless funding can be found.

The Mandella Project, run out of the Downtown Activity Centre by Aspiral Youth Partners Association, is expected to finish at the end of June. It was started in 2010 with $2.2 million in federal funding through the National Crime Prevention Strategy. Despite positive feedback from parents, the school district, the RCMP, the province and city council, Aspiral co-manager Kim Sinclair doubts the project will be able to continue.

“I continue to look for opportunities but, at this point, I realistically don’t have any options that I think are viably going to keep the program alive.”

“Mandella” is a term for dream catcher, and that, says Sinclair, is what the program does: helps young people catch their dreams and build new ones.

“Rather than focusing on kids who have sort of gone down the path of getting into a lot of trouble… The idea of this program was to identify kids at a much earlier age who were just struggling,” said Sinclair. “There’s any number of reasons why they could be struggling. With this particular project, we kind of looked at whether there were drug and alcohol issues within their environment…

“The focus was, could we support them at that earlier stage to be able to make better decisions and to become more attached to things that they’re involved in – like school.”

A core group of 50 youth have gone through Mandella annually, and another 140 in related groups and activities.

Salmon Arm was one of several communities across the country to receive federal funding for a Mandella project, which was designed and developed in the UK. But Sinclair says the project is on the verge of extinction on both sides of the pond due to a dearth of funding.

Morag Asquith, school district’s director of instruction and student services, says she cannot imagine how Salmon Arm’s vulnerable youth and families will manage without the social/emotional support that Mandella has provided, “which we know is directly correlated to criminal activity and mental health challenges.”

“They would engage their clients in healthy extracurricular activities, get them to critical medical or health-related appointments and supported our students inside and outside of school time… I have seen several of our most at-risk youth in our schools become very successful with a little or a lot of intervention from the Mandella Project – some of the working relationships that have been developed for some of our students are the only positive adult relationship they have,” Asquith told the Observer via email.

For Sinclair, the success of the program is difficult to quantify given its proactive nature. He referred to a recent report to Salmon Arm council by RCMP Staff Sgt. Kevin Keane, who said he believed the program has had a significant impact.

“It’s very difficult to measure… about whether or not, if that didn’t exist, would they be out there committing crimes,” said Keane. “I don’t know. But I’ll be able to tell in about five years, because then I’ll be able to see. And I’ll tell you right now, the rate of youth crime in Salmon Arm is comparatively low compared to other communities.”

Council, too, is concerned with the project coming to an end. Coun. Ken Jamieson, speaking also as an employee with School District #83, championed Mandella, and said he was sorry it’s ending. Coun. Debbie Cannon, who chairs the city’s social issues committee, agreed, but emphasized it all comes down to funding.

Sinclair noted an application was made to the city for grant funding but was denied.


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