A warm evening sun, crackling charcoal fuelling the barbecue and a pickup game of basketball zig zagging across the court.
The Kildonan Youth Activity Centre celebrated 20 years at Edmund Partridge Community School May 8 by doing what it’s been doing for the last 20 years — offering kids throughout northwest Winnipeg a place to burn off energy and make new friends when the final bell rings and school lets out.
"The biggest thing we need to be doing for them is providing a safe place," said Garden City Collegiate principal Steve Medwick as he took in the anniversary with some 50 staff, students, volunteers and local politicians.
Medwick was a vice-principal at Edmund Partridge in 1993 when he peered from his office window and spotted area kids loitering after school in front of the 7-Eleven and McDonald’s across from the Main Street school.
To give them something to do, he opened up the school’s gym for drop-in basketball on Tuesday and Thursday nights.
"There was nowhere else for them to go," Medwick said. "They need an outlet besides being out on the street."
Kids took to the program immediately and, despite some growth pains and having to turn kids away at times, Medwick was able to team up with the Seven Oaks School Division and local MLAs to build the program.
Today, some 120 kids from schools across the division — including Seven Oaks, Governor Semple, Forest Park and Riverbend — take part in KYAC six days a week for after school and evening programming. They offer open gym, arts and crafts, movie nights, spa nights, you name it, said KYAC program co-ordinator Pierre Feng.
Since taking on the role three years ago, Feng said he’s expanded the programming to meet the needs of the kids and their families, introducing guitar lessons, hip hop dance classes and family yoga sessions.
"A lot of these children like singing and playing instruments," said Feng, himself a former coach for Manitoba’s provincial handball team.
"But a lot of them come from challenging backgrounds where they can’t afford lessons. When we provide them these opportunities, you never know what will spark in their minds."
The program receives the bulk of its funding from the United Way, and receives funds from local Lighthouses, the Urban Green Team and the Canada Summer Jobs program.
KYAC runs a Rotary Leadership Circle during the summer, a six-week program for 10 to 15 year olds to earn high school credit and gain resume experience by volunteering in the community.
Students Quinton Delorme, Isabela Franco and Barbara Livingstone spent last summer volunteering for Winnipeg Harvest and Siloam Mission, supervising children at Birds Hill Park, and gardening in the community.
"We did so much I can’t even remember," laughed Franco, 14, a student at West Kildonan Collegiate.
Added Livingstone, a Garden City Collegiate student: "It made me realize what it’s like doing all these things for other people."
Delorme said Livingstone and Franco have gotten to be two of his closest friends since getting to know them through the program.
"I wasn’t expecting that," said Delorme, a Seven Oaks student.
"I was doing this to benefit me, meanwhile I was benefitting other people and making new friends. It never really dawned on me (that would happen)."