Jeff Kohl, Executive Director of YAK Youth Services, the Youth Centre in Perth, addressed Perth Committee of the Whole Tuesday asking for money.
He didn’t want a whole lot, just $12,000. And, he added quickly, even with that amount, their annual tireless and exhausting fundraising efforts wouldn’t stop. He pointed out that, unlike other youth centres, YAK gets no core funding. “In every other case the municipality covers 100 percent of costs — rent, utilities, bookkeeping and audit.
“Our youth is worth it,” he added. YAK is probably the only full time youth focus organization in Perth.
As the executive director, Kohl looks at youth from the glass-half-full angle. “They’re talented, creative and have a bring-on-the-world attitude.
“But they are struggling and vulnerable, too.”
Trends show, he continued, that youth don’t sleep, exercise or eat enough. One study concluded about 20 percent of high school students suffer from a least one diagnosed illness; another that close to 50 percent of secondary school students suffer from moderate to high levels of anxiety; add peer and social pressure doubts to the list, as well as obesity (males 29 percent, females 24 percent), and it’s no wonder they “don’t know if they belong or even if they matter.”
Kohl offered some startling figures. “After the Town of Smiths Falls, Perth has the highest proportion of low income households,” (18 percent according to the 2016 Canadian Census.)
He added another. “After Smiths Falls, Perth has the highest proportion of single parent families — 43.5 percent.”
Put these figures together and realize “it’s at a time in their lives when young people are flooded with hormones. Their pre-frontal cortexes are still developing until 24 or 25. They’re just figuring out who they are, what their limits are, and what their identity is.”
Kohl brought these figures to CoW to help illustrate how important YAK is to Perth. “It’s open five days a week, from 2 to 7 p.m. — the critical hours when kids are most likely to get into trouble, drugs, run with the wrong crowd.”
He added a few more figures. There are 470 youth between the ages of 10 and 19 who live in Perth; of those, 208 are youth members, of which 63 percent reside in Perth.
“Last year 132 (28 percent) came to our doorstep at least once.”
Kids participate in youth-initiated programs offered by YAK such as music, art, and dance; young women are asking for more programs. Until recently a work-skills program was offered but that program was cancelled by the federal government.
YAK offers snacks and supper five nights a week with kids in the kitchen; and last year, 1,600 volunteer hours were put back into the community.
Back to the ask. “We work tirelessly to cobble together our annual budget — through federal funding, several foundations, and fundraising.
“We receive $66,000 per year from the Town of Perth, County of Lanark, Tay Valley Township and Drummond North-Elmsley and raise an additional $150,000-$300,000 a year from other sources.”
Councillor Brown made a motion to take Kohl’s ‘ask’ to the budget process; councillors unanimously nodded in agreement.