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Youth Centre helps local youth stay connected, celebrate milestones

'They’re always there for him, if he needs someone to talk to, without judgment,' says grateful parent of Orillia's Youth Centre

While Orillia’s graduates can’t toss tasseled caps with classmates, or walk across a stage in front of friends and family, they’re still marking the milestone. And for many, that’s thanks to a local community organization.

The Orillia Youth Centre is offering graduates a chance to get photographed in cap and gown - free of charge.

“It’s been a real difficult and challenging time for all of us and why not celebrate with the youth whatever that may look like?” said Kevin Gangloff, director of the Orillia Youth Centre.

For Gangloff and his staff, it looks like coordinating socially-distanced photo shoots at special locations around Orillia, depending on where the youth and their families want to be photographed.  

Youth Centre staff member and experienced photographer Dave Ward is behind the camera: he and Gangloff have been shooting graduation pictures — and many family photos — every day since the idea was proposed.

“The families and youth have loved it, and I think we loved it more,” said Gangloff with a laugh.

As the centre is closed to the public, he and his staff have missed face-to-face interactions with the youth they’ve gotten to know through their teenage years.

“You get to celebrate a lot of milestones with them,” said Gangloff.

Amy Angus’ son Arik was one of the photographed 2020 graduates.

“We missed school graduation photos,” said Angus, “so I at least got a grad photo of him which is fantastic. He got to enjoy the day with the people that care about him and he cares about.”

Angus says she’s seen how the Orillia Youth Centre impacts teen’s lives.

“They’re always there for him, if he needs someone to talk to, without judgment.”

Gangloff and his staff host nightly Zoom calls, and just like the youth are used to, they’re a chance to check in with friends and share what’s going on in their lives. Some teens who join the video calls have never been to the youth centre in person.

Gangloff says it’s encouraging to see teens connecting even when in-person meetups can’t happen.  

“You try to find ways to connect and stay connected in a variety of capacities,” he said.

That’s tricky for teens who don’t have access to wifi or social media. But with the help of local businesses Gangloff says they’ve been able to drop off food boxes and brainstorm new ways to connect with youth.

He mentioned how so many local business owners have reached out to the centre to provide support, like Harvey’s Orillia branch which provide burgers and fries for a weekly draw.

“You have the community rally around them, not just us but the community (of Orillia) in general. It’s amazing,” said Gangloff.

When the Youth Centre can finally open its doors safely, Gangloff said it will still be a big adjustment making sure their activities, meetings and open-door culture can thrive in a socially distanced way.

But for now, he says, staff are stepping up to foster community and connection among Orillia’s teens — and help them celebrate life’s important moments.

“It’s been nice for us to offer something — it’s way different for everyone right now,” he said. “Whether it be school or making it through the school year, or heading into the summer which is going to look different lets try to offer something positive for young people.”


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