Youth coming together across communities

This article appeared in the Jan. 31, 2018 issue of the Interlake Enterprise…

Former multi-media and music high school teacher, Anders Kuussalka, is the new Director of Youth for Christ in Arborg, the organization which runs The Bridge youth drop-in centre. He took the helm in December, 2017.

Before Kuussalka came on board, activities at the Bridge consisted mainly of video games, Wii, X Box and Pool, but he has a new vision for the centre, including developing a vibrant music and arts program and facilitating greater interaction between youths across the region.

“The music is just the new component. We also want to add art here,” said Kuussalka. “We are in the process of setting up an art room and kids can work on some art projects.”

A music program is being offered on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Lessons are given by volunteer musicians, Ron Rogoski (drums); Jay Ewert (guitar); and Lauren Dobko (keyboard and voice).

Right now, there are five youths taking part in the music garage band program. Kuussalka is thinking of extending the hours so another band can be formed by other interested youth.

In addition to the music program, other activities are offered during regular drop-in hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4:00 to 9:00 p.m. The plan is to eventually have a monthly event in Arborg on either a Wednesday or Friday night as well.

Kuussalka sees The Bridge as a hub where youths from many communities in the region can come together, form bonds, and develop new skills in a positive, safe environment.

“We want kids to have a safe place where they have a sense of belonging and to feel that they are at home,” said Kuussalka. “Some of the kids don’t have that feeling of, “I belong here and these are my friends.”

“The whole idea of this place is interaction with others. The kids just want to hang out. A lot of kids are on social media, but there’s not enough face-to-face interaction. They miss it. They love talking and hanging out with each other,” he said.

However, Kuussalka said kids need more than to just sit around and talk. They also need physical activity. On evenings when a couple extra volunteers are available, the group utilizes the high school for activities like Badminton. He wants to see the program expand to offer other types of sports activities and is looking for donations of equipment.

There has been a recent donation of street hockey equipment, but the centre is looking for a donation of nets as well.

Kuussalka has simultaneously been working with 15 to 20 youths in Gimli who have regularly been meeting in the Lakeside Church basement. He is also trying to help Gimli youths acquire equipment.

Some of the needs there are a ping pong table, pool tables, air hockey and any other games for the Gimli. A large screen TV is also greatly needed, Kuussalka said.

The youths have really embraced the new activities and the community linking which Kuussalka envisions is taking shape.

On Dec. 12 people from Gimli joined their counterparts in Arborg for a Christmas party at The Bridge. On Feb. 9, from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., the band will be putting on their first show at a Valentine Coffee House at The Bridge and the adjoining Connexion. The audience will be other youths from Arborg, Gimli, Riverton and Teulon. Then, on Feb. 18, a Valentine concert will be put on at the Lakeview Church in Gimli where the Gimli and Arborg youths will perform along with some local celebrities.

While the drop-in centre is run by Youth For Christ, the religious aspect is very low key.

“The Youth For Christ approach is to address the physical, emotional and spiritual parts of people,” Kuussalka explained. “We never force the spiritual on anybody, unless they ask for it. We don’t enforce any one religion. That would make the kids feel very uncomfortable. We want to build relationships with them and help them out. We try to reach out to those who need help.”

The Bridge relies solely on community donations for its operation.

“You have to raise your own support,” said Kuussalka. “We try to get a steady monthly support. Any support is truly, truly appreciated.”

In addition to financial contributions, donations of food for the meal program, and donations of equipment for a range of recreational activities, volunteers are always in demand.

“We need volunteers in Gimli. We’ve only got a handful. They need a break because they put in really long hours,” Said Kuussalka. “Even here, in Arborg, we can always use more volunteers.”

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About Teresa

Teresa Carey is a ceramic artist, writer, photographer, journalist, publisher and nature lover. She lives in Manitoba's Interlake on a small acreage close to the shores of Lake Winnipeg.

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