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Reaching Out to Langley's youth

A Project Reach Out counsellor  speaks with a young woman on the street in the Tri City area. The mobile youth outreach has expanded to Langley and organizers are seeking support from the community. - submitted photo
A Project Reach Out counsellor speaks with a young woman on the street in the Tri City area. The mobile youth outreach has expanded to Langley and organizers are seeking support from the community.
— image credit: submitted photo

A new type of bus service has come to Langley, but it has nothing to do with transit.

Instead, the City has accepted an invitation to climb aboard Project Reach Out.

Joined by local project co-ordinator Amanda Repetowski, Project Reach Out executive director Jerome Bouvier spoke at a recent City council meeting about the Port Coquitlam-based youth outreach program which recently expanded to Langley.

The multi-service, mobile youth drop-in centre is conducted out of a brightly painted bus which travels the streets a couple of nights each week.

During the eight years it’s been operating in Port Coquitlam, Port Moody, Belcarra and Anmore, the bus has become a familiar and welcome sight on the streets of those communities, he said.

Often, as the unmistakable vehicle approaches, kids will come flooding out into the street, said Bouvier. Other times, workers will get a phone call asking them to come to a particular spot.

“We meet youth where they are, on their terms. We meet them where, when and how they need us.”

That might be providing clothing, food or hygiene products, sexual health information or referral for addiction treatment.

Sometimes it’s as simple as providing a bus pass or a slice of pizza as a reward for positive behaviour.

The bus is staffed by a minimum of four people, including three adults joined by youth mentors, practicum students and volunteers, he explained.

Each night, it is stocked with hot chocolate and cider, hoodies, shoes, bus passes and anything else they might find a need for along the way.

Aimed at 12 to 18-year olds, Project Reach Out is about creating relationships first, and addressing issues second, Bouvier told council.

“We use the label ‘at-risk’ loosely. All youth are at risk of something.”

Their targets are street-involved youth, including those that are harder to reach, as well as some of the community’s most vulnerable youth — those who are transient, marginalized, isolated and disconnected, he said.

“We have never and will never turn any youth away,” said Bouvier.

Already, Bouvier is noticing the kids he’s encountering in Langley “are a little more rough around the edges than we see in the Tri-Cities.

“But you look past all that,” he said. “They’re still kids, dealing with the same things.

“They want respect and (they want) help, when they want it.”

Not surprisingly, social media is playing a big role in Project Reach Out’s attempts to connect with teens.

They have a Facebook page and will often get messages from area youth.

“They’ll text us and ask ‘Can you come here?’

“We also tweet several times a night about what’s going on.

“Mostly, those are followed by adults,” said Bouvier.

The Project Reach Out bus has already hit the streets of Langley, and Bouvier estimated there are about 60 kids in the community who he expects can benefit from the outreach program, which will be out and about on Friday and Saturday nights.

“I’m stunned,” said Councillor Teri James. “How did we get so lucky to be selected?”

“You have a guardian angel,” replied Bouvier, saying “a friend in the community” had provided a substantial sum of money to get the project off the ground in Langley.

But part of what brings Bouvier to Langley City is his own personal connection to the community, he told council.

For many years, his mother worked as a cashier at the 7-Eleven store, just a block away from City Hall.

The stories she told him about the troubled area resonated with him, and when Bouvier found himself in a position to help, he naturally thought of Langley.

Rotary Club of Langley Central has helped with some fundraising as well, said Bouvier, and already, almost enough money has been raised to fund a full year pilot project, he told council.

Bouvier estimates it will cost a minimum of $100,000 to $120,000 to operate the bus for 12 months in Langley.

“When you look at the grand scheme of things, that’s one (police) officer, or an executive director of a large agency,” he said.

But one year is not what he’s shooting for — he’d like to see long-term funding for the project secured.

“We need to be innovative and creative. Prevention is huge

. . .  a one-year program doesn’t do it. We need consistent support.”

That involves more than money, he added.

Among the donations Bouvier hopes to garner are munchies — apples and oranges — to hand out, jugs of water for the cooler on the bus and an auto shop that can serve as a ‘pit crew’ for the vehicle.

“There’s one out here (in Port Coquitlam) that does our oil changes and only charges us for the oil.”

Bouvier closed his presentation to council with a rap song about Project Reach Out, written and performed by a young man who has been helped by the program.

“The whole philosophy is so much more than what I expected,” said Councillor Rosemary Wallace. “I can’t thank you enough.”

“I’m a little choked up. I think the kids have a guardian angel in you,” said Councillor Gayle Martin. “You’ve made me very emotional. There are no boundaries with you.”

“It doesn’t work without the front line officers,” Bouvier replied. “It’s all about working together.

Mayor Peter Fassbender invited Bouvier and Repetowski to come back to council in three months or six months to update them and fill them in on any challenges they may be facing in the City.

“At times we marginalize kids by putting them in a box. They don’t live in a box, they live in our community,” said Fassbender.

“Suffice to say, we’re on board.”

Anyone in the community who would like to help Project Reach Out get rolling in Langley is asked to call Bouvier at 604-525-1888.

The number for the Project Reach Out bus is 604-781-6671

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