Maple Ridge youth centre ‘a leading facility’

All of the youth drop-in centres in the Lower Mainland could fit into the Greg Moore Youth Centre

Tony Cotroneo with one of the late Greg Moore’s racing helmets at the youth centre.

You provide a place for a kid to relax, feel safe, enjoy some fun and comradeship – and the odds go way up for him or her to make the leap into adulthood.

It’s the principle the Greg Moore Youth Centre has followed since opening Oct. 13, 2001.

“Recreation is probably the most preventive tool in the world and it costs a lot less than prevention,” youth recreation manager Tony Cotroneo said Monday.

The centre marked its 10th anniversary last Saturday with cake, tributes and award announcements. The adjoining Maple Ridge Leisure Centre also marked its 30th anniversary.

While it’s already a decade old, Cotroneo says there still isn’t another youth centre exactly like it in the country.

“I don’t know if there’s a big place like this for young people in Canada, anywhere,” he says.

All of the youth drop-in centres in the Lower Mainland, usually only classroom space with no place for physical activity, could fit into the Greg Moore Youth Centre, he adds.

After 10 years in service, he wouldn’t make any changes to the $2-million building, which includes a social room, computer room and activity floor. Being able to close portions allows flexibility in its operation.

“The building hasn’t changed. It’s still quite state of the art. There’s nothing I would change. I think about that all the time.”

One reason the building works so well is because all potential users were consulted in the design, so it was built right from the start.

The centre also remains connected to its namesake. The Greg Moore Foundation, formed by parents Ric and Donna Moore, in honour of the Maple Ridge race car driver killed in a racing accident Oct. 31, 1999, has donated $12,000 yearly to the centre for its summer employment programs.

The foundation also gave $40,000 during construction to pay for the climbing wall.

One of Moore’s helmets remains on display in the centre as a permanent reminder. MacGyver actor Richard Dean Anderson paid $50,000 for the helmet to support a foundation fundraiser, then gave it to the youth centre as a permanent commemoration.

Cotroneo has been involved with the youth centre since before it was built and has seen thousands of young faces come and go.

Sometimes parents are leery of having their good kids encounter and get mixed up with “bad kids” at the centre. But he points out there are no bad kids, only kids doing bad things.

And for youth who stop in at the centre, it actually works the other way.

“The peer pressure comes from the good stuff, not the bad stuff – and I have seen that from Day 1.”

The centre operates the Keeping Kids in School program during the daytime, allowing students options to the regular classroom. Every night from 6 to 9:30 p.m., it’s drop-in time for teenagers, with plenty of youth workers around.

There’s a misconception that the centre is only for youth at risk, but kids from all of walks of life drop by. Having said that, because of the hours it’s open, kids from across the spectrum show up, up to 100 a night, either looking for a place to do homework or play some floor hockey or just hang out for a bit.

“Our role is to do what we’re really good at, which is to build relationships and provide social and recreational opportunities.

“It allows us to bring young people of all shapes, sizes and abilities together into one place.”

Where the kids didn’t hang out together in high school, “here in this place, they’ll find common ground.”

This summer, the centre was awarded the B.C. Parks and Recreation Association facility excellence award for 2011.

Cotroneo reviewed the philosophy of the centre, which is encourage kids to change from being a non-participant to being a participant, to become a volunteer, then a leader, with skills that eventually lead to employability.

“Whether that takes six months or five years, we want to take people through that growth.”

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