Collingwood Youth Centre is so much more than a drop-in centre for youth of ages 12-18. Through the Centre, youth can learn new skills, connect with peers and mentors, gain access to useful resources and engage in fun activities. The Centre was started by a group of individuals and organizations, including Elephant Thoughts, Environment Network and Rotary Club of Collingwood South Georgian Bay.

The Centre opened its doors in September 2017 after receiving a three-year Grow Grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation. The Centre’s operations are currently managed by Kerri MacDonald, Executive Director at Environment Network, Jeremy Rhodes Executive Director of Elephant Thoughts and Rachel Schneider, program manager and instructor at Elephant Thoughts.

Beginnings of the Collingwood Youth Centre

When asked about the main catalyst for opening the Centre, Kerri responds, “The main idea behind the Collingwood Youth Centre was to create a safe space where youth could come and hang out, learn something new, talk to other people or just decompress from the world around them.”

Youth remains one of the largest groups who are in need of social and economic resources. According to Youth Without Shelter, 1 in 5 homeless shelter users in Canada are youth. Additionally, as of 2021, 1.4 million children live in food-insecure households in Canada. These statistics are an indication of the significant need for resources that exist among the youth.

The lack of access to adequate social and economic resources can often mean that youth do not have the opportunities to pursue their interests, build meaningful connections or make positive contributions to their communities.

Collingwood Youth Centre seeks to change that by creating and enabling a space where youth are able to explore their curiosities, gain access to resources and benefit from being part of a supportive community. Whether a youth is facing an issue related to employment, food security, or health and well-being, the Centre is a safe place where youth can access the resources that can help them address their issues. If the Centre is not able to help directly, they often connect the youth with a specific place where they can receive the help they need.

Rachel and Kerri lead the centre

Programs and Resources for youth

Collingwood Youth Centre offers a wide range of activities and resources, from ping-pong table and t-shirt maker to 3D printer, recording studio, and Mac desktop stations that are part of its Makerspace. The Centre offers scheduled programs through which youth can develop new skills, connect with peers and professionals, and gain new knowledge.

Tshirt print at Collingwood Youth Centre

Some of the Centre’s current programs include coding classes and youth council initiatives that seek to effect social change. Over the next few weeks, the Centre is planning to launch a 10-week audio production and song writing workshop, as well as a 12-week program that teaches young women the fundamentals of social media marketing, digital design, photography, videography, and podcasting. The Centre also has a kitchen and pantry, which enable it to provide snacks and meals for youth.

Collingwood Youth Centre kitchen

In addition to its regularly scheduled programs, the Centre runs paid internships which help youth develop hands-on, transferable skills that can help them to gain employment. The Centre currently offers the Culinary Internship program, which allows the participants to sharpen their kitchen skills, develop knowledge of food safety and meal preparation and learn from professional chefs. The Centre is planning to offer agriculture internships and digital arts internships in the future. Once the internship is completed, the Centre connects the participants with Tracks Employment Services, which helps the youth transition into the workforce.

Digital arts

The wide range of resources offered through the Centre enables youth to take on impactful projects. A prominent example of such a project is No Home in Sight, a full-length documentary about youth homelessness in Collingwood that was produced by the Centre’s film club. The documentary project surpassed its goal of raising $20,000 in funding, which goes towards helping at-risk and homeless youth in the area.

Collingwood Youth Centre

Since its opening in 2017, the Centre has become a recognized place where youth can feel encouraged and supported no matter where they come from. The Centre’s staff are dedicated to supporting youth in all the ways they can. Kerri says, “We are here to help youth. For example, if a situation came up and a youth needs to go to the emergency shelter in Barrie but is not able to go here, we will figure out a way to get that youth to Barrie.” Another reason donations are so important!


Drop in fun

Donations making a big difference

When All of the Centre’s regular programs and resources are offered free of charge. The Centre is primarily funded through grants received for its programs. To keep providing its resources that are not directly related to programs, the Centre relies on donations from individuals and organizations.

Playing piano

Kerri and Rachel explain that every donation goes a long way for the youth. A recent donation of $20,000 from a private donor that came through the Collingwood Hospital Foundation was used to start the program Head Strong. This program allows youth access to free psychotherapist services for the Centre. If a youth would like to receive support for their mental health and well-being, they can request to meet either in-person or virtually with the psychotherapist. The service makes a big difference in youth’s mental health.

Mental Health Programs

The Centre is currently running a food security initiative called Project Butterfly in partnership with Environment Network and Elephant Thoughts. As part of the initiative, there will be food drives, expansion of community gardens, community pantry, and cooking programs that will be taking place throughout the year.

The Centre expresses its gratitude to its partner and sponsor organizations who donate resources or raise funds that help the Centre to keep supporting youth. These organizations include Collingwood’s local Sobeys, Cobs Bakery, Starbucks, local elementary schools, as well as the Rotary Club of Collingwood South Georgian Bay.

Local support

The Centre also welcomes volunteers who can run workshops that teach youth practical skills such as embroidery, sewing, managing finances or renting and owning a house.

Budget help for teens

Are you interested in making a positive impact on youth’s lives? Then consider volunteering or making a donation to the Collingwood Youth Centre. Donations are eligible to receive tax credit receipts. Visit https://collingwoodyouthcentre.ca/get-in-touch/ to learn more. The Centre is located at 76 First Street in Collingwood, and it is currently open 3pm-8:30pm from Monday to Friday.

Collingwood Youth Centre - chilling with music

Collingwood Youth Centre invites you to connect with them through Facebook at  https://www.facebook.com/collingwoodyouthcentre/

Leading the centre

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Photo Credits: Dave West Photography