Located at 1420 Portage Ave. at the Portage Avenue Mennonite Bretheren Church, The Refuge serves as a skate park and drop-in centre for kids in grades 3 to 12.
"It's a safe place to go, to come and be yourself," says Jonathan Toews, skate park co-ordinator. "The kids love it."
The skate park includes six ramps designed for all levels of ability. A seventh is expected to be added during the course of the summer.
But while the park is a big draw, young people in the neighbourhood should also be aware that skateboarding is just one of the activities at this drop-in centre. Others include foosball, table hockey, billiards, other outdoor sports and activities, as well as organized field trips and outings.
"Many kids have come back year after year, and we have really gotten to know them," says Toews. "This is really a pretty neat place. The kids really enjoy it. They get so excited."
When he came to work at the park last year, Toews, 22, decided he should learn to skateboard.
"I realized I wasn't very good," he says. "Of course, some of the kids who come here are amazing. Kids in grade 7 or 8 are unbelievable. They practise a lot. They are teaching us how to do it. So far, I can do an ollie and a pop shove-it. I'm learning the basics."
The Refuge was created because kids in the area needed a place to go, says Toews. It is one of four such skate parks/drop-ins run at Mennonite Brethren churches. Others include Westwood, Fort Garry and McIvor churches.
Last year, the ramps were resurfaced and smooth new asphalt and sturdy fencing was installed. With city funding, Toews says they hope to be able to resurface the ramps each year, as required.
The Refuge is primarily staffed by members of the Urban Green Team, including Toews. Volunteers also help out.
It's not just kids who are thrilled that The Refuge is around in the summer. The owner of a nearby restaurant is happy that kids are no longer skating in the restaurant parking lot, says Toews.
"Parents are always telling us this is a good place to be," adds Toews.
The Refuge is open Monday to Thursday from July 7 to Aug. 22. A schedule has been set to allow kids to hang out with peers of similar ages. Helmets are required for skateboarders, and the centre has some on hand for those who don't have their own.
To attend The Refuge, registration is required, with a parent or guardian signing a form that will be kept on file for the season. Over 80 kids have registered this summer, and up to 40 might hang out on any given day. A mailing list is kept, and invitations are sent out to former participants to register again each spring.
For more on The Refuge, call 774-4414 or visit their web-site at www.pambchurch.com/refuge.htm.
PHOTO LINDA VERMETTE/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS