It is early Friday morning and Caitlin Anderson sits on the comfy black faux-leather couch at the Squamish Youth Resource Centre. Two rock-climbing holds hang on the ceiling in front of her and a pride flag is pinned to the wall beside her.
At first glance, 28-year-old Anderson, the centre's co-ordinator, could almost be mistaken for one of the youth who are gathering in clusters at the skatepark to chat before the first school bell rings at Howe Sound Secondary, located just beyond trees that surround the centre.
Wearing jeans, sandals, a T-shirt, hoodie, and her sunglasses pulled up on in her hair, she smiles brightly at anyone who comes into the centre, which can see 50 youth a day cross its threshold.
The youth centre, located at 1135 Carson Place, is having a Community Open House and barbecue on Sept. 13 from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.
The Chief sat down with Anderson for a chat about her path to the youth centre, what it offers, and its future.
What follows is an edited version of that conversation.
Q: When did you start here at the centre and where did you come from?
A: I started here as a youth worker in 2016, and came to Squamish for the job. I have been the co-ordinator for two years.
Originally, I came from Mississauga, Ontario where I was working in outdoor education jobs seasonally
Q: What made you interested in youth work in the first place?
A: The idea of having a job where I could have fun and make a difference at the same time drew me to this work. When I was in university, I started working for the Tim Hortons Camps, which have a summer camp aspect — like canoe trips — but it also has an underlying meaning of helping youth who wouldn't normally be able to go to camp. Later, I went to school for social work and found you can work in the field, and have it be fun as well as therapeutic. It is also different every day and keeps you on your toes — I like that.
Q: What do you think adults misunderstand about the youth you see here at the centre?
A: Every single youth who comes through here is so interesting and has their own unique story. If you just take a second to sit down and listen to them or get to know them, they are really so amazing. They all have special talents or things that are really cool about them. I just want them to all succeed in whatever way that means for them.
And they sometimes may be loud and rambunctious or even misbehaving or being rude, but there are underlying reasons for all of that. There could be things happening in their home life or they are being bullied, for example.
Q: What would you like people to know about the youth centre?
A: The kids here are often really respectful. There is no swearing allowed here and everybody respects it. It is quite amazing. We've had principals, teachers and parents come in here and they are amazed that the youth respect the rules.
It is a really positive space here. If you come inside, it is such a magical space.
Q: It is a cool space. But soon you will be moving the centre to a new building, as part of the upcoming Buckley housing project. Can you talk a bit about that?
A: It is exciting. They are going to be starting to build in the spring. There'll be a new youth hub on the bottom floor of the affordable housing building. We will move our programs there.
We love this building — it is so unique — but moving into the new centre, we will be working with the youth to also make it a space for them that they can agree is comfortable and fun. It will be colourful and unique. The skatepark is staying. And the District is starting community engagement about a Dentville park that will be here somewhere too. This whole area will look pretty different and family-friendly.
Q: Anything else you want to say about the centre?
A: We are really proud of the programs here and we want youth to know we are here for them. The youth workers are here to talk to them, but the space is here for them to just be themselves and hang out.
You can be loud; you can do crafts and get messy. You can have fun.
The centre is open Monday to Friday at lunch and from 3 to 7 p.m. after school.
We probably have 30 or 40 youth coming through at lunch every day.
Students can come and get a free lunch given out by Helping Hands. The Food Bank gives us snacks — we are loaded with food and snacks.
They play pool or Uno or borrow skateboards, bikes or scooters.
We have free meals on Thursdays at 4:30 p.m.
Fridays, starting on Sept. 20, we are starting our Lift Program, which is a workout class for girls.
We are thinking of starting up a Dungeons and Dragons club on Mondays.
For more on what is happening at the Squamish Youth Resource Centre, go to their Facebook page.