MOUNT FOREST – Walking through the doors of the New Growth Family Centre is a first step to a better world for young people.
In today’s world it takes an involved community to raise a healthy, successful child – and Aletha McArthur intends to do her part.
In 1999, McArthur, a behaviour and special education specialist, conceived the idea of New Growth Family Centre Inc. It became a registered charity in 2004.
Then, roughly a decade ago, McArthur opened the doors to New Growth Family Centre, located on the site of a former church, which now offers a place local youth can access the skills and tools needed to make their place in the community.
McArthur has since built credibility and rapport with children, youth and their families as well as with foster care agencies, schools, medical practitioners and mental health professionals in southern Ontario.
McArthur delivers her own unique balance of firm yet caring educational strategies in a therapeutic learning environment that is safe, structured and supportive.
She believes that early intervention is the key to school success and she is dedicated to ensuring that all children, including those who have experienced early trauma, grow up to reach their potential and become responsible and productive adults who succeed in life.
Now, Aletha’s Place within the centre is set to provide overnight respite accommodation for youth.
“We are dedicated to the betterment of children, youth and families.”
McArthur pointed out, “We’ve been in this building for 10 years now.”
She explained, “Over the past while, there has been a real focus on homelessness among youth … and then what to do about it.”
Aletha’s Place provides a supervised “home away from home” within the community of Wellington North during a time of confusion and family conflict.
Short stays offer a place for a youth to stabilize and think through the situation before making reactive decisions that may affect their lives forever.
It also allows parents to breathe and think clearly in the midst of the stress and know that their youth is safe.
Aletha’s Place has added three bedrooms, a full bathroom and a meeting room where parents and youth can meet together to solve problems with support in order to repair and maintain their relationship.
The facility can accommodate up to four overnight or weekend respites. Clients will have access to all the resources of the New Growth Family Centre.
Here, clients can engage in gym sports, music jams, arts and crafts, Wii games and more. In the auditorium they can enjoy a movie on the giant screen.
Outdoor activities include hiking, camping and a paint ball area located at the facility’s pond just seven kilometres away.
The renovations were made possible by generous donations from the 2016 International Plowing Match Committee in Minto, the Mount Forest Kindred Credit Union, the Kindred Charitable Fund and the Wellington North Youth Action Council.
Clients can immediately plug into New Growth Family Centre’s conflict resolution and coaching programs for continued support or they can be referred to additional community support services.
She stressed “this is not a drop in or a shelter – but it is a short-term respite accommodation.”
“It is a space for someone who has nowhere else to go.”
McArthur said young people have a lot of influences coming at them regarding how to behave.
“For some, they are getting into situations which are dangerous and very destructive.
“Because I work with children and youth, I am seeing this happening.
“This is a place to settle somewhere safe and warm, and there are people there to offer some guidance.
“Homelessness is now much more obvious and people are asking what can we do about it? We have done something.”
Since the idea started a year ago there were substantial donations from within the community that allowed the centre to move forward and undertake renovations. McArthur stressed without those donations the work would not have been possible.
“Right now, we are in the process of getting the word out,” about the facility, McArthur said.
An open house was held earlier this year for members of the community to learn more about what the centre offers, and plans for the future.
“We had people attending who were interested in what was happening and those who were surprised that homelessness is a problem among youth.
“The parents with kids 15 to 18 … they get it.”
McArthur said there are a lot of enticing influences young people are exposed to that are unrealistic.
“Celebrities are doing things, living a lifestyle – and the kids get the idea it is normal.”
McArthur said the goal is to provide a safe space for up to 48 hours.
“A lot of thinking and a lot of change can happen in those 48 hours,” she said.
“If the youth chooses to continue on the path they are on, they are going to do it anyway.”
McArthur noted the program is all volunteer driven.
“The goal is to hear the underlying problem, then bring the families together to help repair and maintain these relationships right here in the community.”
She said “if the kids leave the community and are in a shelter in Guelph, it starts a whole other path.
“This provides a safe space within the community.”
Keeping the service local allows the family to connect with other local medical or social services as needed.
She added if the youth is still in school and moved to Guelph, the local connection is lost.
McArthur is pleased with the centre’s progress over the past decade.
“It’s a prevention program.”
When kids are reacting with behaviour, McArthur seeks to find the underlying cause.
“If identified early, we can make a difference.”
McArthur said kids who’d been heading on the path to foster care, were reunited with their families following work with the child and the parents.
She stressed neither she nor her husband are paid for their work at the centre and any revenue generated “goes directly to support New Growth Family Centre.”
Government agencies such as Family and Children Services and CMHA contract New Growth Family Centre “for specific programs for youth and their families.”
Since its inception, McArthur states the centre “has taken the steps to make a positive difference in the lives of children, youth and families.
“Many of our families do not have sufficient financial resources to pay for private programs to help their child. Insurance plans cover mental health conditions in adults but not for prevention and treatment plans for children and youth.
“Together we can do it right here in Wellington North.”
McArthur said donations are needed to continue the work. “People think charities get money from somewhere … but where does it come from?”
In addition, McArthur pointed out that paid overnight staff are required to supervise.
“These are people who have to understand the heart of the story as to why these kids are here.”
She added “all the staff have full-time jobs of their own, but are willing to come in to assist me – because I cannot be here 24/7.”
McArthur compared it to a situation where parents may need a break and send the kids to their grandparents for the weekend.
Then McArthur can look at the root of the situation and work on steps to bring the young people and their families back together with a mutual plan to move forward.
“It is not just sending the person off on their way the next day. It is about providing some guidance while the young person is in a safe place.
“It really is a home away from home.”
To learn more about New Growth Family Centre Inc. or to support its work, visit www.newgrowthfamilycentre.com or call 519-509-6432.