It started out as an idea. A simple idea a mere three years ago – meet the needs of youth in the community by providing them not only a safe place to rest their heads, but also the support to live full lives into the future – a place to truly belong.
This was a shared vision by Executive Director Jake Schellenberg and Housing Director Char Lockhart of Central Alberta Youth Unlimited (CAYU). Now it has become a reality through the YU-Turn Skill Development Home.
A home located on a quiet street in Lacombe will now be a place where four young men will call home.
CAYU representatives, dignitaries, volunteers, donors, neighbours and community members gathered at the home last Thursday for the grand opening.
Schellenberg provided a brief timeline of how the YU-Turn project formed. “Several years ago, we opened up a youth centre in Lacombe,” he said. “That happened because of the needs our workers saw in local schools. We were excited to do that in order to serve this community. This project here is also a result of the needs that our workers see as they work with kids in schools.”
Schellenberg said for CAYU, it is important to have the right people in the right place, and such was the case when Housing Director Char Lockhart joined the team three years ago and began to work on the project.
“I know the road hasn’t been completed yet,” said Lockhart. “This road has a long mile left in it and we are very excited for what those miles will hold.”
She added that working with young people in the City for almost two decades has shone a spotlight on the need to increase support for many youths who have grown up in challenging situations.
“We are excited to have another tool at our disposal to see those we work with walk into their full potential and find hope in that process,” said Lockhart. “Through this program, we look forward to helping 16- to 24-year-old young men become holistically healthy, fully independent community contributors.
“This home is really about creating family. It will create family for young people who do not necessarily have a good experience with family.”
Lockhart noted that the project is much bigger than herself, Schellenberg, or the renovation.
“This is a community-wide project and that is part of why we are so excited.”
Lockhart said many people were involved in the project, not only in the planning or funding stage, but also in the renovation stage, that took around five months to complete. “We know for sure we are at over 400 volunteer hours just for getting this home ready,” she said.
City of Lacombe Mayor Steve Christie said council has been watching the project form for three years. Through the City’s Affordable Housing Committee, $80,000 was granted to the project, to allow for the purchase of the home.
“It’s all because of the hard work and the needs seen in the community,” he said. “It is so comforting to know as a council and as a city that we have people in the community looking after our needs.”
Christie noted not only is this project a first in Lacombe, but it is also a first of its kind in the province.
Outreach School Social Worker and Steering Committee Member Laurie Smith said the home will fill a huge need in the community, as some youths in the area are often couch surfing.
“They go wherever they can find a safe and warm place to lay their head,” she said. “Without the ability to have food, clothing and shelter, a sense of belonging or a sense of safety, they are not able to achieve to their fullest potential. That is something that YU-Turn house is going to provide. It is going to be their shelter, their safety, a place where they belong.”
The Lacombe Knights of Columbus were the very first community group to get behind the project and provide seed money.
“For the Knights of Columbus, our main goal is to help disadvantaged youth and when we heard about this project, we immediately sat down as a committee and looked over the plan,” said Knights of Columbus Representative Jim Maloney. The Knights have also donated funds raised from the last two Oktoberfests to the YU-Turn housing project.
Owner of Castle Wolf Creek Building Supplies John Deregt said as a supporter of CAYU and the YU-Turn house, he is very excited to see how the program will impact the lives of young people in the City.
“As a local business, we believe that when we work together with other community organizations, we have the opportunity to truly make our City a better place,” he said.
Community donor Mill Vincett said after taking a tour of the residence that the home was tailor-made for young men.
“Although having no children of his own, my late husband Fred became a ski instructor,” she said. “For 20 years he taught a multitude of children to downhill ski. I hope he knows that now he has had a hand in helping young men to take a new step uphill.”
The YU-Turn Skill Development Home is managed by a house parent who lives full-time in the home with the youths. A youth worker will also provide individualized programming to each resident.
“It has been an incredible privilege to have the whole community come together and what is maybe even more incredible, is how we may impact the lives together of young people, not just for today, and not just for one person, but for an entire generation,” said Lockhart.
When asked if YU-Turn would pursue another project similar in nature, due to the high demand in the community, Lockhart said the group are ‘visionaries,’ and that they will see what the future holds.
The four new residents will move into the home sometime in January.