By: Laura Keil

Jeremy Althause and Morgan Tinsley snap the disk back and forth on an air hockey table. It flies off the table and hits one of the nearby walls in the tiny room. But their noise and frequent wall pucks won’t bother their parents. That’s part of the beauty of the V-Crew youth drop-in centre in Valemount.

While its grand opening won’t happen for a little while yet, youth are welcome to drop by starting this week.

Youth Coordinator Daren Sparks has been working on the centre since he started his job about eight months ago, a position created by the Learning Centre with funding from Columbia Basin Trust. A drop-in centre was the top priority named by youth in a survey he did last winter.

The youth centre, or clubhouse, as Sparks sometimes calls it, is for youth aged 12-19, and is located on Commercial Drive in the old Valley Sentinel office.

The walls are still largely bare and white, but the space is filling up fast with all kinds of things to entertain the town’s young people – a drum set and jam space (they are looking for instrument donations), computers, a projection TV (they are looking for an X-box), a pool table and couches are some of the features.

A drummer himself, Sparks hopes to teach interested youth how to play and make music a big part of the centre.

“Everyone in the community has been really cool,” Sparks says of the donations that have rolled in.

Althause says he’s been helping out Sparks for several months. He says the space is a good opportunity for youth to have fun and hang out and there’s a lot of things here that he doesn’t have at home.

“No air hockey, no pool, no drums.”

He says the most exciting thing is that young people will have something else to do in their free time. Until now, he feels their options have been mainly playing video games or going over to a friend’s house.

Morgan Tinsley says the space will allow them to connect with the community, make better bonds with existing friends and make new friends.

Kienan Wied says it’s also a space where they can teach each other things.

Sparks says the drop-in centre will likely be open from 4:30-9 on weekdays and 1-4 on Saturdays, but those hours may change depending on interest. He’s hoping to have help from volunteers, but he feels both attached and excited about the centre, and wants to be there whenever it is open. His mom, who recently passed away, also helped set up a number of youth centres in small communities across the west. Sparks misses her advice and passion for the work but says, “She really helped me get my head in the right place when I came here for this job.”

Sparks wants to make Valemount the model for other youth drop-in centres, and hopes it can give more opportunities to local youth, as well as welcome new kids coming to town.

The centre is part of a 9-month pilot project. Sparks says he wants to invite other local youth groups to use the space.