Fort Smith friendship centre wins national award

Fort Smith friendship centre wins national award
Board members and volunteers at Gabe’s Friendship Centre in Fort Smith celebrate their Award of Excellence, given to the organization by the National Association of Friendship Centres.Photo: Pauline Gordon.

Uncle Gabe’s Friendship Centre has been recognized with a countrywide award of excellence. The National Association of Friendship Centres (NAFC) announced the award at the organization’s annual general meeting, held in Brandon, Man. from July 21 to 24.

“It feels amazing,” said Amy Harris, youth coordinator. “All the hard work that we’ve done throughout the years, it’s certainly paid off. There’s lots of youth that we’ve helped along the way and other people and it’s just nice to be recognized for a tonne of work that we do.”

“It was great, I always thought we didn’t do enough,” said Tina McNeill, executive director and former regional representative for the NAFC. “We always think we should do more and more and more but then I went to the national AGM meeting and that’s where they presented the award. I was really surprised that we won. Like, there are eight centres in the NWT!”

In addition to hosting events for outside groups, Gabe’s offers a plethora of services to young and older folks alike, everything from cribbage and bingo evenings to counseling services, bullying workshops, drug, alcohol and tobacco workshops, violence and crime information sessions, programs on healthy relationships, cultural development, a homework tutor club, employment and creative development services. It also sends young people to events outside of the region, like the annual Spirit Seekers youth conference in Grande Prairie.

Since it was established in 1972 to represent friendship centres emerging across Canada, 118 centres and seven provincial or territorial associations have been included under the NAFC’s umbrella. The NAFC recognizes one friendship centre from each province and territory with an award of excellence each year.

Working with a tight budget

In February 2014, NAFC funding was “streamlined” from four separate programs to two with a total of $43 million per year to be shared with centres across Canada in 2015 and 2016. At the same time, a $1.1-million Cultural Connections for Aboriginal Youth program was cut entirely, forcing the closure of the T-Rev Youth Hub evening and weekend program for a time.

Now the initiative is up and running again, but organizers have had to get creative with their funds.

“We’re doing the best we can with the money we get, but we also have the youth doing a lot of fundraising,” McNeill said. “We do fundraising for the youth, we do the T-Rev bingo on Tuesdays at the youth centre and that’s extra dollars for them for programming or supplies or whatever is needed. We can’t and don’t use it for salaries, we get money from the government for salaries. We’re struggling but we’re managing in that area.”

Setting aside money worries for just a moment, Gabe’s will be inviting the community to join them in celebration of the award for several days, starting with a community feast on Oct. 10. They will also host a cribbage tournament and a fall fair over the Thanksgiving weekend.

“There’s going to be entertainment and maybe a little jigging and different activities,” McNeill noted.

“Throughout the community, we’ve been very lucky to be helped,” Harris said, explaining that generous donations and fundraising efforts from a variety of community organizations kept programming going. “Thanks to everyone who supports with donations and volunteering. We’re always looking for more volunteers if anyone wants to help!”

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