Written by Janet Davies
For 17 years, ROC has been a registered charity that builds RELATIONSHIPS, provides OPPORTUNITIES and creates CONNECTIONS for Prince Edward County youth ages 6-18. All programs support personal and social development and are funded by various one-time grants and community donations, allowing ROC to provide FREE programs and mentoring to over 900 registered PEC youth every year.
ROC offers in-school and after school programs at 6 County schools, including PECI. In addition they host special events and have recently opened the PEC Youth Centre at 299 Main Street, Picton where they offer new and unique program opportunities for teens, as well as drop-in activities. Hilary Fennell shares that “it was the vision of Darlene Thompson, our Executive Director, for years that the Youth Centre should be visible. When the kids have their own entrance, they feel they really belong in the community, not tucked away out of sight in a basement somewhere.” After years of being Program Coordinator Hilary is moving into the Youth Centre Director role as exciting new youth programs begin.
Along with the new downtown youth centre, ROC’s core program clubROC continues taking place twice a week at ROC’s clubhouse in Queen Elizabeth Public School, where participants (grades 1-8) have opportunities to participate in physical activities, creative arts projects and visits from special guests, and participants are always provided a healthy snack and drink. ROC coordinates and provides transportation to this free program ensuring that all youth from across the County are able to participate without barrier. ROC has 18 high school students who regularly volunteer from PECI who attend this program weekly. Some have grown up attending the program and some who are new to the experience, but either way they are there every week providing leadership and acting as mentors to the next generation of County kids.
Another key program ROC hosts is the Girls Group at PECI on Mondays at lunch, with upwards of 25 girls in grade 9-12 attending weekly. The ROC program features a healthy lunch while they discuss issues affecting women, and particularly teen girls, and their effects socially, locally and globally. These critical conversations extend beyond the one-hour check in each week. The girls make new friends with each other and benefit from the many opportunities that ROC is able to provide, connect and support them with in the community.
ROC has been around almost two decades, ever changing and adapting to the needs and desires of County youth. The benefit of the longevity of these trusted relationships with the youth puts ROC in a position to make meaningful connections and empower participants to make positive choices in their own lives.
“We strive to connect young people with their community. Among many things, we help them find employment through our partnership with Career Edge,” says Hilary Fennell. Young people at the centre come up with ideas for activities and Hilary helps make those ideas happen. “Like our Open Mic night at the end of March. We have a young woman who writes spoken word poetry but has never shared it publicly. We had this conversation and voila! She titled the event A.R.T. (Appreciating Rhymes and Tunes). These things happen organically, and with the centre open they can happen a lot more easily.”
THE NEW YOUTH CENTRE
Opening the new youth centre in a physical space in Downtown Picton has spurred people into lending a hand. “Long before we opened, people were donating furniture and kitchen appliances and offering time or help with maintenance. I meet with people every week who want to be involved. It’s very encouraging, because we have a lot of diverse needs. There’s always fundraising to keep the doors open and promotion so people know what ROC is about. We love it when people stop by to see what’s happening. That’s why 299 Main Street is so ideal. You can just drop by, meet the kids, see how we’re using the space and maybe that will spark an idea – maybe you like to sew and can teach the kids. Or knit. Or cook. There’s tons of ways people can spend a little time with young people in their community.”
Hilary says frankly, “I firmly believe kids live up to the expectations placed on them. If you expect County kids to be up to no good and nothing but trouble, well that’s probably what you’ll see. But in my experience if you believe in them, if you have positive expectations, if you want to empower them and give them tools, if you hold them to a higher standard, they absolutely will live up to that.”
ROC AND LOCAL SCHOOLS
The ROC works closely with PECI in Picton. “How important is it to be connected with the teachers?” Hilary answers, “There are not even enough WORDS to describe it! It’s that valuable. We have tremendous contacts with teachers and support staff. Rob Furmidge, the Child and Youth Counsellor is particularly valuable when young people are in a crisis or struggling. They don’t know where to turn, even though the resources are there for them, and that’s when ROC can play a part by guiding them to those resources – because we are familiar faces, they know us and trust us. The teachers and guidance department and principal Darren McFarlane are incredibly supportive of our programs, like the Girls Group we do every week that’s had about 40 girls involved over the past couple years. It’s a drop-in program so the girls come by whenever it works for them, just to check in and have conversations. We keep a constant communication going and that’s worth a lot to teenagers. It helps them to see a real connection between the place where they have to spend five days a week and the place they choose to hang out after school. They see we’re in the same world and have the same focus on their best interests.”
ROC’S YOUTH TALENT SHOWCASE AND KEY FUNDRAISER
Hilary says, “We’re all excited about the ROC’N Revue coming up May 4, 2017. I’d really like to see our community fill the Regent Theatre. We fill it for an Oscar-winning movie – let’s fill it for our own kids onstage. Kids have been working with Community Coaches who are mentoring them, sharing their skills to prepare them for their performance. When they come out onto the Regent Theatre stage, it would be so great to show them how much the community is behind them. That we DO support them. There are a thousand ways that adults can do a greater job and be of greater good to the next generation. Buying a ticket for the ROC’N Revue May 4 is a good start. Show them you care.”
PECI students are also driving the ROC’N Revue this year. Greer Koutroulides who teaches the Entrepreneur course to Grade 11 and 12 students recalls the flurry of interest when Lesley Lavender, ROC’s Communications Director, pitched the idea of the ROC’N Revue to the students. “She came, explained it and left it with them to work on,” says Greer, “They split into groups, a Management team and four Focus Groups to assist with plans for Promotion, Raffle, Sponsors and ‘Night Of’ responsibilities.” They went back to Lesley, Darlene and Hilary at the ROC with their ideas, plans and suggestions. “The Entrepreneur classes usually handle in-school events,” says Greer. “Things like Grade 9 Day, the Terry Fox Run, an annual Silent Auction for the Salvation Army and of course the big one, the Prom. But this is something new. This gets them out in the real world. It’s a great event idea and we’re providing extra manpower to help the ROC make it happen.”
HOW DOES ROC’N REVUE BENEFIT STUDENTS?
“This is a good opportunity for my students,” says Greer, “They are not only working out in the community, but they are working with the ROC. PECI has strong connections with the community that can add support to ROC’s efforts. They give us a lot and this lets us give something back. It’s doubly good for the kids to feel they are contributing and their ideas are being valued. This kind of event will connect them to the community – and they’ll see how much WORK goes into pulling something like this off!” said Greer.
Another valuable benefit is the chance to interact with the business community. “They’re going to get experience talking to adults and professionals, honing their communication skills,” says Greer. “We’re working on that,” she laughs. “Getting in LOTS of practice before we set them loose in the community! People don’t realize opportunities like this rarely come up for teenagers. Even when students were first speaking to Lesley and Hilary some of them were intimidated, despite the casual setting. Communication takes practice.”
“The ROC’N Revue is going to be a great experience for the youth,” Greer continues, “They will be interacting with the public, manning booths, selling and taking tickets. That kind of exposure is outside their comfort zone.”
Greer explains how the value of the experience working with ROC kicked in as soon as students were invited to pitch ideas. They were encouraged not to be shy, to put suggestions up for discussion. “The kids came through,” she says. “They gave some very cool new ideas. Of course we had to look at their feasibility and whether they fit the event and that got us into good marketing lessons: where do you focus? Who is your target audience? We also zeroed in on the importance of taking risks. Young people don’t always like taking risks, they like what they know, connect-the-dots type stuff. But having a real world experience like this shows them you don’t really learn until you take a risk. When something doesn’t work, that’s when serious learning takes place. You reflect and think how to do it differently. These are skills that are transferable to life.”
YOUTH ENTREPRENEUR SUCCESS (YES) PROGRAM
A new program offered at the Youth Centre is the YES Program. The goal of the YES Program is to empower youth to develop job skills, connect with mentors from the local business community and inspire youth entrepreneurship in Prince Edward County. With youth-selected skill-based activities, workshops led by successful entrepreneurs and visits to local businesses where youth can speak with leaders from different sectors, the YES program assists youth in developing self-confidence and entrepreneur skills. “Our first event will take high school students to visit local businesses, focusing on entrepreneurs who grew up in the County, who left and came back to start a business, those who moved here to start their own business or who never left at all because they found a way to do what they love and be their own boss,” said Hilary. The business owners will talk to the kids about personal experiences and their connection to the County as well as their work. Hands on activities will make it interactive and engaging. Community Business Partners that they will visit include Jason and Kristie Bilodeau at Picton Martial Arts, Nurseland Farm’s modern dairy farm, Hinterland Winery and County Road Beer Company, KA Media and the Old Greenhouse Ice Cream Shop in Wellington. “The aim is to make students feel more connected to people working in their community,” says Hilary. “They will hear real life success stories and see there can be a future for them in The County.”
Born and raised in Prince Edward County, Hilary empathizes with local kids. “I went to PECI. Greer did, too. We remember what it was like. We just wanted to get away, go somewhere else. Now we’re back, raising families, making careers here. I think if this generation of kids can hear those stories and see what’s possible, it might open their eyes. We want to introduce them to people who have figured out how to stay here or come back home,” she says, “we want them to know that there is a future here. Yes, we want them to leave home, do post secondary, explore the wider world, but we want them to explore what’s available here, too.”
TEACHERS SAY YES TO YES
PECI teacher Greer Koutroulides says, “I went to PECI. I wish I’d had this kind of involvement and awareness of local businesses when I was growing up. I want to show this generation that there are opportunities for them here. The YES program can do that.” She and her colleague Rob Garden are enthusiastic about the field trip to meet entrepreneurs. “We’re brainstorming other ideas,” she says. “Like doing an Entrepreneurial Fair to bring people together because we can’t take the kids to see EVERYBODY exciting out there! The ROC is one of our most valuable resources for this connect.”
So YES will be introducing kids to local businesses, and the business owners will benefit from exposure to young people. As Greer says, “A lot of people really don’t have much to do with teenagers. For Rob and I who run the Entrepreneurial courses it’s phenomenal to partner with ROC, because they have the connections and the time to put it all together. It’s a huge plus for us. Maybe next year we can have two tours, one in the Fall and one in the Spring, to cover the business classes in both semesters. There is such diversity in County businesses and the kids need to see that. We want to open their eyes to that so even if they go away to continue their education they will know there are reasons to come back.”
A COUNTY COUNCILLOR WEIGHS IN
Bill Roberts is Councilor for Sophiasburgh and Chair of the Community Economic Development Commission. We asked him about CEDC’s partnership with the ROC.
“Youth retention is being made a priority by the Municipality,” says Bill. “Why? Well, hanging on to our young people is a priority in its own right to ensure balance and diversity in a community, but other County priorities are going to depend on having a younger demographic to be sustainable. Housing and affordable housing is an example. We know 80% of County businesses wish to expand, twice the provincial average, but right now we lack the skilled trades to make that expansion a reality. Ask anybody trying to hire a contractor.”
Bill continues, “We need young people to stay, train, live and work here. The County faces an aging population, a skilled labour force shortage and a lower than provincial average graduation rate. To address these issues we have to keep our youth, inspire them to believe in their own success and encourage them to work for that success. That’s why the Community Economic Development Commission invested in the YES program for Youth Entrepreneur Success. And that’s why we’ve committed to multi-year support of the Recreation Outreach Centre.”
Bill concludes, “We are supporting the ROC because it is already investing in the youth of Prince Edward County.”
The ROC has been working with young people here for 17 years. The organization has a good reputation and long-term credibility in the community. ROC is already active and welcome in our County schools and has good connections with teachers. Maybe more importantly for us, ROC had the idea and genuine passion and commitment for the YES Program as a partner with CEDC. We expect great things from them, the programs and the new Youth Centre. It’s taxpayers’ money so we incorporated key performance indicators into our 2017 strategies and will work with ROC to make sure we achieve our goals. We believe in the ROC. We’re proud to be partners.