May 03, 1996 Features & Images » Feature Story

feature 318 

By Christopher Woodall There's a movie set in the good ol' boy Deep South of the United States where this judge asks a rookie Brooklyn lawyer with an accent problem, "Yoots? What are yoots?" The lawyer is defending two "youths" up on some hocus-pocus rap, you see, but to go further would take away from an exploration of what's up with the "yoots" here in Whistler. Up until recent years, the judge's question would probably fit right into the Whistler scheme of things. Other than ski schools for the under-20 set, there wasn't a whole lot shaking for anyone to young for the bar and club scene. Hotels and their facilities cater to adults, not "yoots." Bars and restaurants cater to adults, not "yoots." You don't see too many Whistler "yoots" playing golf at a hundred beans a round, or circulating among the many art galleries, throwing critical purchasing glances at the $5,000 etching or $2,300 glass thingamabob. What to do, what to do? The Meadow Park Sports Centre was a big step in rectifying that problem, what with the pools, fitness area, arena and all. The sports centre has a number of special events where they clear out the old farts and let youths rule. This spring sees improvements to the thoroughly-used skateboard park, and this fall will herald the opening of the community high school. Both will greatly enhance Whistler's repertoire of facilities available to youth. But even as recently as a year ago, concerns that the community wasn't reaching Whistler’s youth led to the formation of YAPP — Young Adult Partnerships Program. "There's not too much to do at night," says Angela McKerral, the youth representative on YAPP and a columnist on youth issues in the Whistler Question. "Most of the youth here, other than the ones who live with their parents, most of those who come here are here for snowboarding and they're kind of disappointed with the rest of Whistler," McKerral explains. "A lot of the time, the only alternative is the bars, so that kind of gets incorporated into their lifestyle." Alternatives include the arcade under the conference centre, of course, and perhaps the activities at the Myrtle Philip community centre and Meadow Park Sports Centre. But McKerral says there's a stigma attached to the last two that has a lot to do with those places being too "family" oriented. "A lot of people sort of shy away from them." The skateboard park is a focus of grievances. McKerral says young adults and youth are hoping for an indoor skateboard park to replace the current park, which is rendered useless during Whistler’s rainy spells. It was also in desperate need of repair. "The skate park was a big mess," McKerral says. But not for long. Appia Developments has donated $10,000 to rebuild the park, adding a basketball court and a "street course" of curbs, railings, and other skateboardable obstacles to the site. And once the ice is removed, the sports centre will open the arena to skateboarding, complete with ramps. "Some good things are happening," McKerral says. But it's not so much a "facility" youth are after, McKerral says, as a place where they can feel comfortable hanging out with their peers. "We're hoping to get a youth centre one of these days, where we can do stuff like that," McKerral says. The difficulty behind "wanting" and "getting" is that full-on adults demand thorough plans, schedules, theories, and all that other stuff that requires a lot of time and patience to write up, re-write and then grind through the bureaucratic machinery before anything is promised, much less built. And youth? Well, there's that impatience factor. "For myself, I'll think I've got this great idea and I want to do it tomorrow, but then there's all this red tape," McKerral explains. "A lot of kids get excited about an idea, but because they're not staying (beyond the snow season), they feel they can't commit to an idea if they're not staying around to see it happen." she adds. "Cost is a huge factor for kids," says Jhan Derpak, a YAPP consultant. Young adults and youth are always encouraged to be part of slo-pitch, volleyball, basketball or other recreational sports leagues, but a lot of them — especially the transient youth — have two or three jobs just to keep up with the cost of living in Whistler. That cuts into recreational time. YAPP meets the first Tuesday of every month at the Whistler Mountain Ski Club cabin to address youth issues and work toward solutions. Working under the umbrella of Whistler Community Services, YAPP is partially funded by donations from groups such as the Lions and Rotary. "We usually have a few things on the agenda, but we're always trying to address issues such as what can we do to get kids more involved in activities," Derpak says. YAPP's attempts to reach youth are getting attention. "We've had people from all over the world phone us because they consider some of the partnership programs we've run to be models for what they'd like to do," Derpak says. "And yet we really are a very small group looking for more input," she adds, hoping to encourage more of Whistler's youth and young adults to go to a meeting to provide some extra juice to the proceedings. "Kids just don't want to come to meetings," she says of the challenge to keep ideas fresh. Beyond the sporting life, the challenges of leaving home and entering adulthood mean youth will have a lot of questions. So where are the answers? "High school kids have access to counselling through the counsellors at the high school," Derpak says. "Outside of that, kids can access counselling services through social services, or through their employers. "I think most employers in Whistler are aware of the issues most of these kids go through and they're quick to recognize where kids need some help," Derpak continues. "Usually the employer initiates counselling and has counselling procedures, so I don't think that's something kids are missing. "But whether kids know counselling services are available or not is a good point," she says. "If they're here on unemployment insurance or something else, then they may not know about it." The latest YAPP venture is Twin Peaks, a monthly newsletter written and designed by youth, for youth. Derpak says the 500 copies of Twin Peaks are intended to increase youth awareness of what Whistler has to offer, not just in fun things to do, but in work and education programs, too. "There'll be items on coming events, things like snowboard invitationals, skateboard jams we have here, any mountain bike races that are going to take place, drop ins at the community centre and things that are going on with Parks and Recreation," Derpak explains. "It's a way to get free information out to those kids, because they don't read a lot of newspapers — and they don't listen to Mountain FM, I can tell you that!" The first issue of Twin Peaks hit the news-stands at the beginning of May. The name is more than a recognition of the two lift companies. "A lot of people have the perception that YAPP is just snowboarders, but we're not," Derpak says. "The whole notion of Twin Peaks is that there are lots of other sports: articles on roller blading, mountain biking, skateboarding, snowboarding, there are a lot of great photos and it's free." Twin Peaks takes advertisements to help defray the costs to produce it. "I think the youth in this community are a lot more highly educated than people would perceive them to be," Derpak says of Twin Peaks’ potential readership. "They're really an articulate, artsy kind of group, so we want to tap into some of that," Derpak says. "If there's a reluctance to take part in a lot of activities, it usually comes down to a lack of funds," Derpak says. "It's not that they don't want to do anything, it's that they can't afford to do it." Because of the high cost to join clubs and sporting organizations, for example, YAPP is attempting to get bulk discounts on youth memberships that can be applied to the age group YAPP serves, which can often include young adults just over the cut-off age — 18 years old, usually. "These kids spend most of their money on top-of-the-line equipment — snowboards, skis, mountain bikes and all that — and they live that kind of leisure, but sometimes that's not enough," Derpak says. The new high school will go a long way toward giving youth a place of their own. "They see that as their domain, and they don't have one right now," Derpak says. The more awareness youth have of what this resort has to offer, the better they'll feel about their role in the community, says Bob Andrea, youth programmer at the Meadow Park Sports Centre. "Everything we do here is targeted to youth," he says of the numerous sporting, fitness and general recreational activities. As well, there are a number specific activities, such as the Broomball Bash and the Grunge ’n’ Plunge, where youth can wear their grungiest clothing and skateboard off a ramp directly into the pool. Cool, eh? "There's plenty to do, it's just that you have to be active," says Andrea. "Every teen in the world says there's nothing to do, no matter how many things there are, because what they want to do is hang out in the village, but not be bugged and be on their own." As an example, Andrea sent the Whistler Community Services Society a list "a mile long" of outdoor things to do. The list will be distilled into a "top 12 things for youth to do." If there's nothing to do, it's because that's the choice they've made, "and that's interesting," Andrea says. As for youth centres, Andrea believes "they are the way of the past," and not likely to work because eventually they only attract the same 20 kids. And the high school? All eyes are on it for its impact on Whistler. There is talk of craft studios, photography labs, a drama and music room, a huge gym and a Noah's ark of programs to serve the community, as well as the students cracking the books there. But principal Rick Smith is keeping his cards close to his chest. "We generally hope to offer a whole range of activities, but I don't want to create any expectations," Smith says, because everything has to be organized from scratch. "Every student, every teacher, every policy and every procedure is brand new," the principal says. "We haven't opened, but already there have been a whole lot of new challenges." "Yoots" will just have to hold their breath.

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