It wasn’t only Stockwell Day’s rendition of Big Bad John that impressed the crowd gathered at the annual Merritt Walk of Stars gala, he also blew everyone away with an announcement of almost $700,000 for the Youth Mural Project.
On Friday evening, the Okanagan Coquihalla MP shared a song, made a star and announced two grants from the Government of Canada. The largest of the two is a commitment of $600,000 over three years from the National Crime Prevention Centre. The second is an annual grant of $99,741 in Youth Skills Link funding from Services Canada.
“The Government of Canada is committed to focusing crime prevention funding on those who are most at-risk and on projects that demonstrate they work,” Day explains. “I applaud the efforts of the Merritt Walk of Stars Society for developing a local solution to assist approximately 50 at-risk aboriginal youth in the Nicola Valley lead productive and positive lives. As Minister of Public Safety and Member of Parliament for this area, I am proud to support this initiative.”
Day says the mural project is an important part of the community because of it’s focus on the youth. He says the murals have become a statement of what a community can
“They represent the values that are expressed and founded in rural communities across the country,” he says of the murals. “They represent the importance of family that comes from a small community – the people who care for one another – that’s what its all about.”
He says crime in Merritt is no worse than any other community. The funding came to the city not because of its crime rate but because a few people with a vision worked hard to come up with a way to make a difference. He adds for that reason muralist Michelle Loughery should be commended.
He points out that young people need to know that they are accepted and that someone cares enough to help them move in a positive direction.
Loughery believes that is exactly what her program offers Merritt youth.
“None of the kids in Merritt are bad, they are just lost without parental support or structure,” she says. “They want that, and we offer it to them.”
She says the three years of guaranteed funding seems like lots of money, but it will only cover the wages of approximately 17 youth, their employment training, a life skills coach and some supplies.
But its value is that it offers them longevity.
“It means we can plan ahead,” she says.
She adds that looking three years ahead will break the cycle of the youth jumping from program to program. It offers them a real future and a chance for employment.
The focus of the crime prevention part of the grant is to support vulnerable families and children at risk, to prevent youth gang and drug-related crime and recidivism among high-risk groups and to foster crime prevention in aboriginal communities.
Loughery has co-ordinated the mural project in Merritt for four years. She says already it has made a difference.
“It’s already preventing crime,” she says. “The biggest crime of all is the loss of support systems in our communities.”
She says the youth involved in her project don’t start out with issues they struggle with now.
“They are victims first,” she says. “They are victims of a broken down society.”
Amber Papou worked for two years with Loughery securing the crime prevention funds. She says it was a hard journey, but having the two grants will make the program more complete.
“The Services Canada grant offers the youth employ-
ability skills,” she says. “And the crime prevention money is more focused on teaching them life skills.”
Loughery says the system Canada is using now for troubled youth is not working. Programs like hers help them reshape their future by building their skills and confidence.
“We will be studying its
success,” she says. “It enables kids to make a contribution to their community and take pride in the fact that they have a
voice and feel powerful.”