An example of what comes in an activity box: snacks, a bottle of water, cooking ingredients, paint, brushes, and more.There aren’t many places for youth to connect these days, particularly during the colder months.

While youth centres in Blenheim, Tilbury, and Dresden have been closed for the past year, staff have come up with virtual programs so that connections with youth are maintained.

Emily Robert, Executive Director of the Blenheim Youth Centre, says that the BYC started virtual programming last July after closing their drop-in service. Each week, they deliver a box to youth with all the supplies they need to complete daily activities.

Each activity is explained on the BYC’s Facebook page so that all youth have to do is visit the page and tune in to the instructions.

After partnering with the Solid Rock Cafe Youth Centre in Tilbury, more than a dozen boxes are delivered to youth living in that area. Emily says that the Dresden Sidestreets Youth Centre is next to come on board so they can reach more youth on that side of Chatham-Kent.

When it comes to the activities in the boxes, Emily says that cooking is a big part of how the youth centres are able to connect with youth while also teaching them valuable life skills.

A small pizza cut in four pieces with pepperoni, cheese, and mushrooms. This is one of the cooking activities that the youth centre has done in the past.“We try to keep the recipes different each week. We’ve done chicken quesadillas, chicken stir fry, some desserts, candy apples and breakfast burritos. Now once a month we can do bigger family meals like lasagna and spaghetti and meatballs. With our new funding, we’re also able to include gift cards so that the kids and families can go out and buy the perishable ingredients that they’ll need for the cooking activity,” explains Emily.

While the activity boxes are keeping about 100 kids engaged with the youth centre each week, Emily says that not having the drop-in centre open leaves some kids without a place to connect.

A calendar of events at the Blenheim Youth Centre in April 2021

Activities for April 2021 at the Blenheim Youth Centre

“What we’re finding is that the kids that are registered for the boxes are the kids that are engaged, they want to participate in those kinds of activities like the crafts, games, and things like that. But where we’re seeing the gap is those kids that really just want the space and the adult in the space to talk to, but we can’t allow them to be there which is really hard for us. Those kids, who are usually 12 years old and up, aren’t going to register for a box because they aren’t getting that interaction and socializing that they want, which is what our organization is for,” Emily explains.

While provincial guidelines state that they could open with a reduced capacity, Emily says it would be hard to allow a few youth in at the expense of turning away dozens more.

In the meantime, the activity boxes continue to be popular amongst youth, and anyone interested in signing up for a box can follow the Blenheim Youth Centre on Facebook or by visiting their website.

If you’re interested in hearing more about local organizations and how they’re finding innovative ways to keep going, you can listen to our podcast series here.