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‘All my friends are here’: How a youth centre thrives in a shopping mall

The Centre has been running out of the Halifax Shopping Centre for 17 years

3 min read
caption From Left: Carrie-Anne Turner, Andrew Ward awarded a cheque to Lauren Vatcher and Stephanie Schnare to continue the work they are doing at The Centre.
Adam McNamara

As several teens run by laughing, Lauren Vatcher smiles and jokes as she covers her ears and says it’s always this loud.

The laughter from more than 50 youth at The Centre was especially loud on Thursday afternoon, when they received a $1,250 Ted Rogers Community Grant for improvements to the youth centre.

Lauren Vatcher, who has been the youth centre supervisor for over five years, said the money from the grant is good for both improvements to the centre, and the teens’ self-esteem.

It “reminds them that people see them as good deserving kids,” said Vatcher.

The Centre, a program for youth ages 12 to 18, is tucked away down a hallway in the Halifax Shopping Centre. It’s funded by the mall and also relies on donations to keep running.

Hugh Henderson, one of the youth at The Centre, said he was thankful the staff threw a pizza party Thursday.

He’s also thankful the facilitators provide a fun place to hang out.

“This space is somewhere for all of us to go and chill, instead of walking around and doing nothing. It’s really fun to play video games. All my friends are here,” said Henderson, 13.

The space is a teen’s playground. Chalkboard covering is used as wallpaper, where teens have written positive thoughts and signed their names. Computers line the walls and video game consoles are set up in each corner.

Around 17 years ago, mall administration noticed a problem with theft and loitering. They decided to start a youth centre as a pilot project to help curb shoplifting and also help vulnerable and at-risk youth.

Their efforts have not been wasted.

caption Teens enjoy a pizza party Thursday afternoon at The Centre.
Adam McNamara

“Every day I have kids coming up and asking me for advice on whether it be family life, jobs or résumés. They really look up to us,” Vatcher said.

Vatcher remembers a time a younger teen approached her and told her about the problems she was having. Vatcher said she contacted the authorities, and it ended up being the first convicted case of human trafficking in Nova Scotia.

“So, that was a big moment in history for us that we were [able] to support her and help her,” said Vatcher.

She estimates around 50 teens come through the centre each day.

She said they have created positive relationships with the nearby St. Agnes Junior High School and other community organizations. This allows them to extend the support services they offer.

“We have been able to support kids in other aspects of their lives and that is something we are really proud of,” she said.

Stephanie Schnare, one of the youth program facilitators, said they’re still deciding how to spend the grant money.

In the past couple of years, they’ve taken trips to the Natural History Museum, had scavenger hunts, watched a Halifax Hurricanes game, and even met the basketball players.

Schnare said The Centre is unique because it’s inside a mall, but she believes the setting is a great fit.

“All they really want to do is hang out,” said Schnare.

“So we really embrace that instead of pushing them away. We want to allow them a place where they can feel safe and be themselves.”

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Adam McNamara

Adam McNamara is a journalist in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He has a passion for telling stories and informing the public on healthcare, education,...

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    Pamela J O'Reilly

    That is a great idea. Somewhere safe, relax and be with friends. Thank you for reporting this
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