The Kiwanis Emergency Youth Shelter (KEYS) is a transitional housing facility for youth-at-risk in the Victoria area.

The home is more than 100-yearsold, and requires significant renovation and repair.

The perimeter drainage system is blocked by tree roots, and the building foundation has significant cracking.

Julie-Ann Hunter from the Victoria Youth Empowerment Society says the home is a vital support for desperate youth.

“It’s a ten-bed shelter for youth that are 13 to 18.  It’s that first step, maybe, when a youth doesn’t have a place to go.”

KEYS is a dorm style residential setting offering assistance 24/7, for up to seven nights, depending on the needs of the youth and their family or caregivers.

“Maybe there’s been a family breakdown, maybe they need a safe place to come to while things get sorted out.  We’re also here for our youth that are homeless in the community” says Hunter.

The Kiwanis Club of Victoria owns the building.

“it’s just a fantastic experience to be able to provide, in some way, a little bit of help in their life when they need it,” says Kiwanis member David Poje.

Kiwanis volunteers maintain the home as best they can with minor renovations such as painting the exterior, replacing some interior drywall and overhead light fixtures, and working in the garden.

But for larger jobs, they need to bring in professionals.

And that includes replacing the crumbling foundation.

“It’s a fairly substantial project, and Kawanis just doesn’t have that kind of [expertise or] money” says Poje.

But the Kiwanis volunteers learned of the Victoria Foundation’s community grants program.

“So we applied”, says Poje, “and we got it!  They awarded it to us!  They recognized the value of the program in the community, so I really want to thank the Victoria Foundation.”

And so, with funding secured, the job was put out to tender, and Flinstones Construction owner Mike de Palma answered the call.

“When I got a call that there was some work to be done on a Kawanis youth shelter, I didn’t know at first that it was on Vancouver Street.  And then when I talked to Dave [Poje], and found out it was the youth shelter, it definitely had me inspired!”

Inspired, because in an incredibly ‘full circle’ turn of events, de Palma will be ‘coming home’ in a sense.  KEYS sheltered him many times during his teens.

“When I was about 14 years old, my home arrangements weren’t ideal, and it wasn’t a safe place to be for me.  I didn’t have anywhere else to go, and a friend of mine had told me about Kawanis.”

De Palma is forever grateful.

“[When you’re] in a place where you’re fragile, and vulnerable, and you don’t know where to go or what to do, to have a support system that you can come to, where there are professionals in this area, to get the food in your stomach, and give you that peace of mind knowing that you have a place to stay…”

De Palma’s voice trails off at that point, and I ask him if he ever wonders where he might be now, if not for Kiwanis, and KEYS.

“Unfortunately, a lot of my friends and peers that I had from that time, many of them are no longer here any more…so, yes, I often think about that.”

De Palma is excited to get started on the work, to give back, to a home that gave him so much.

“And the fact that we can help build a stronger foundation, that hopefully can support youth for the next hundred years, I’m very proud to be a part of that.”

 

Veronica Cooper