Inner City Youth Alive's Kent Dueck shows off the gym at the rebuilt Bridge drop-in at Salter Street and Aberdeen Avenue.

Youth centre rises from fire: Drop-in spot in North End set to debut new $1-M look

Written by Aldo Santin, courtesy of Winnipeg Free Press

A fire three years ago ripped out the heart of a North End youth drop-in centre, but the blaze became a springboard for a $1-million renovation project.

Located on Aberdeen Avenue at Salter Street, Inner City Youth Alive is holdings its grand opening celebrations this afternoon, focusing attention on what has been one of north Winnipeg’s best-kept secrets.

“When we started this (renovation) project, it was like putting a gun to our heads – the bills and donations were coming in neck and neck,” said Kent Dueck, the co-founder and executive director of Inner City Youth Alive. “At one point, it looked as if we were going to have to take out a $250,000 mortgage and when people heard that, donations started to come in and we were able to finish.”

The 2008 fire destroyed the drop-in’s mill shop. Instead of rebuilding the shop, Dueck said it was decided to convert the shop into an expanded drop-in centre.

“It used to be you could throw down a used carpet and an old TV and call that a drop-in centre, but we decided we weren’t going to go that route,” he said.

The drop-in centre, known as The Bridge, features a mini basketball/ floor hockey court and a nine-metre- high climbing wall that used to be at Mountain Equipment Co-op, a canteen with modern, diner-like seating, two large, wall-mounted flat-screen TVs, several smaller flat-screen monitors for gaming, a craft room and a loft lounge with new leather sofas that doubles as a quiet area.

The ribbon-cutting and speeches for the grand opening begin at 1:30 p.m. today, with an open house from 2-5 p.m. Invited dignitaries include Mayor Sam Katz, police Chief Keith McCaskill, MLAs Doug Martindale and Bill Blaikie, MP Kevin Lamoureux and Judy Wasylycia-Leis.

Dueck and Mark Friesen created Inner City Youth Alive 25 years ago. It operated out of Rossbrook House and offered youths a chance to attend summer and winter camps.

It set up its own space at its current location 15 years ago. Thousands of vehicles and their occupants pass by this corner every day without knowing it exists.

The centre is housed in a three-storey, 20,000-square-foot building. Its corrugated-steel exterior gives it an industrial look, but the inside is full of life.

On a weekly basis, the centre serves 480 youths ages 5 to 25 from the immediate neighbourhood. They come for the friendship and hot meals, a safe place to play and hang out – and build racing cars.

“I think we’re the biggest secret in the North End,” Dueck said of his agency’s low profile in the city. “Most of the kids who come here come from the surrounding three or four blocks.”

The centre continues to offer winter and summer camps and a variety of after-school and evening programs. It has an evening race-car club where kids build stock cars and race them at Red River Co-op Speedway.

The centre partnered with St. Aidan’s Anglican Church five years ago to set up St. Aidan’s Christian School, teaching kids in grades 5 to 8 in small classroom settings.

Dueck said the programs are all designed to instil self-confidence, skills and leadership in a safe and nurturing environment.