Salt Spring Island does not have a lot of facilities to accommodate young people, but we do have The Core (Inn) on McPhilipps Avenue. It is a safe place where island youth can come together to hang out, play music and games, and where snacks and healthy food are available. Trish Nobile, a Community Youth Outreach counsellor for Island Community Services, was involved with the Core from the very beginning.
It is not a happy story, the beginning of the Core Inn, now referred to as the Core. Trish Nobile started working for Island Community Services in 1984. She left her position as a Youth and Family counsellor at an alternative high school program in Vancouver behind and moved to her cabin on Salt Spring Island, a refuge from the big city. Coming from Vancouver, she noticed that there wasn’t as much for youth to do in a small, rural community. “So youth will perhaps party more to create their own sort of socialization and entertainment,” says Nobile.
That was certainly the case when she started working on Salt Spring Island. “It was a change coming from Vancouver, where we were challenged by downtown city problems, to such a small place. But as lovely as our community is, some of the youth here had some pretty serious issues as well. I remember my first year when a tragic accident happened on Mount Maxwell. A boy was under the influence of drugs and alcohol and fell off a cliff. It is risky for youth being involved with substances in the back allies of Vancouver, but it can just be as risky on a mountain top.”
The urge to make some positive changes for youth on Salt Spring Island came thirty years ago, in the summer of 1993, after a tragic accident in the south end. “Four youths who were on drugs stole a car and went joyriding on the island. Their vehicle hit a parked truck on a blind hill and two of them died and two were severely traumatized and injured”, Nobile recalls when she gets up to find a picture of Ilan Nelson (16) and Kiowna Lolande (16). “I always get emotional when I see their faces. I was as a counsellor for the alternative high school program on Salt Spring Island, called Gulf Islands Program Serving Youth (GIPSY), at that time and knew and worked with them both.”
After the accident, concerned people in the community, counsellors and a few parents came together. “We wanted to do something for the youth on the island in the hope of preventing tragic accidents in the future,” Nobile continues. A youth center was mentioned. “One effort was made before, but the location wasn’t right at that time, so that didn’t last long. I was working with a youth group at the time and they were very proactive and they inspired me to try again. They told me that they would like to have a youth center in the core of Ganges. They actually already hung out in the yard of this building that was abandoned and for sale at the time.”
The youth told her to contact a woman on the island who was known for her philanthropic work. “They dared me to call her and so I met this wonderful woman, Susan Bloom, who wanted to stay anonymous at the time and passed away in December 2021. She was willing to help and told us that if we were able to fundraise half of the amount to purchase the building, she would match the funds.”
The Core Inn evolved from a grassroots youth-driven community effort to raise funds. “Our mandate was ‘for youth, by youth and with youth’, and it really was a joint effort. We didn’t get big grants from the government. Kids actually went door to door, asking people if they had a jar of spare change, that they might want to donate,” Nobile looks back with a smile. “With the help of some substantial donations from well-to-do community members, the founding board of directors became the Core Inn Youth Project Society, a not-for-profit organization with charitable status, in 1994 and we were able to purchase the building. It all came together miraculously.”
The three-story heritage building on 134 McPhillips Avenue has gone through many changes historically. It has been a home built by the Garner family, a movie theatre, a pool hall, which the older generations probably will remember, and an Inn. “The building had different names over the years but often had the word “Inn” in the name. After the passing of Ilan and Kiowna, we found out that both their middle names were Corin. This all came together in the new name: the Core Inn, a place in the core of Ganges.”
Today, youth can get together at the Core to hang out, play games and music, and eat. Kids in Grades 6-12 can drop in after school, between 3 and 7 pm. “Over the years we have had a lunch program, cooking classes, BBQs, Turkey dinners, open stage music and poetry nights, dances, and an internet café where youth could help older residents with their digital skills and earn school credits. We also had the GIPSY program in the Core Inn but that evolved into the Phoenix program which now is housed next to the Gulf Islands Secondary School.”
As a Community Youth Outreach Counseller for Community Services Nobile is not actively involved with the youth center anymore, but until the end of November, when she retires, you can find her office on the second floor of the Core. “Times are tough for young people. More than ever before with the homeless crisis, cost of living, and the temptations and availability of toxic drugs”, she says. “If I had unlimited funds, I would buy a big house with a lot of rooms and communal spaces. It would give young people, who don’t have a huge support network, the opportunity to transition into adulthood more smoothly. Housing would make a huge difference. How can you deal with problems or mental health issues without being grounded first, without a stable and safe place to live?”
The Core Youth Center
The Core is open on school days, from Monday to Thursday (3-7 pm), for kids in Grades 6-12. “It is a safe space to hang out after school,” says Nikky Peers the new Youth Program Coordinator at The Core since mid-October . “We have a small cafeteria, kids can drop in to play games, pool, foosball or music together, or just hang out and talk.”
While the new coordinator is working on programming starting in January, there will be three events happening between now and January. First up is a ‘taco bout it’ on November 23rd (4-6.30 pm). “We are starting a podcast for teenagers, and we will talk about those plans that evening while tacos are being served,” Peers continues. “It will be a podcast made by teenagers, for teenagers, with a little bit of guidance from us. They can pick a topic, think about questions, find someone to interview and we will help with recording and editing.”
In December, there will be a Christmas movie night (December 7th, 3.30-6.30 pm) with gingerbread decorating and a Christmas feast on December 20th (4-7 pm) where teens can enjoy a Christmas dinner together.
Starting in January, there will be a full calendar with crafts and other activities. To ensure that the new initiatives align with the community’s needs and preferences, parents are asked to fill in a survey. You can find it here