Alina Riabko fidgets anxiously in her seat until asked to smile for the camera. Then a much more confident grin appears.
When the youth centre she attended was suddenly closed, a friend told her about the Drop-In Centre at the South East Ottawa Community Centre. The United Way/Centraide Ottawa funded program provides employment support, recreational programs and counseling resources for youth. And, as Alina describes it, a chance to “cook, eat, watch movies” and sometimes, just “go crazy”.
The 16-year-old has now been attending the drop-in sessions for over a year. She attributes the comfortable environment and encouraging staff with helping her find a job, improve her homework and make new friends. “When we come here, no one cares what you are. We’re all one big happy family.”
The engaging, multicultural environment has made her more aware of her community. “I’ve learned a lot about life outside this building.” She now volunteers at the centre—cooking meals and helping to keep the centre clean—and has a keen interest in helping the other teens that drop in to the centre.
And it’s not only Alina who benefits. Her mother, she says, doesn’t have to worry anymore. “She knows I’m safe and happy.”