The KEY is suitably named after its purpose: Knowledge Empowers You and it is this foundation that the centre was built on.
Today more than ever, the centre continues to connect people through education and training offering essential skills in health, employment, life and literacy outreach services.
The Key is for the community and it continues to serve everyone regardless of gender, sexual orientation, origin, age, disability or marital status.
Ann McCormick is the regional supervisor at the College of New Caledonia and she has seen the impact the centre has had on the community since it opened its doors in July, 2013.
“It’s about the entire community and about preserving the dignity of those in it,” McCormick said. “It’s about being a good neighbour and fostering that policy.”
According to McCormick, the project was always community driven, but it has now become community owned.
“So many people are behind this now. They have seen the impacts and they now see why it so important that it continues. They want to take this on” she said.
According to McCormick, there was some opposition at first but since, the entire community has come together with CNC Fort St. James to make this happen including: Northern Health, various community businesses, Nak’azdli Band, the RCMP, local schools and the District of Fort St. James.
After a one year pilot project in the downtown core, the focus was to provide services and programs to locally marginalized population groups. The project is now proven to be a success and is seen as one that the community does not want to live without.
But The Key has to now look at alternative options to cement their existence.
“We now know that this is a viable and much needed service in the community and we need to keep it going. We are limited to how much funding is available while it runs through the college so we are looking into the center becoming a non-profit organization,” McCormick said. “This will allow for more funding opportunities.”
The Key is open three days a week and continues to bring in about 50-60 people a day from families, teens and elders.
“It’s not a drop-in centre,” McCormick says. While people visit, they must engage in some activity such as playing cards, computing, telling stories or puzzles. They must partake in some form of learning.
The Key is all about life- long learning and empowerment. “We know that learning can lead to bigger opportunities such as employment and for some maybe even furthering their education,” McCormick said.
Local service providers are available at the centre which continues to provide a warm and inviting space for those who would like to access a computer, use the phone, receive academic or employment counselling and various workshops are also offered.
Bernice Wilkes, has been a support worker at the centre since February, 2014. “Our centre is a safe, comfortable and culturally sensitive place,” Wilkes said. “Our patrons know that at any time, they can approach us for help. They are all informed about different programs and resources that are available.”
According to Wilkes, many younger patrons, after receiving help with updating their resumes, come back with a job. “They are full of excitement and self-confidence and this is so exciting and wonderful.”
Delilah Sam is a new support worker and has been with the centre since November. “I truly love being at The Key. It is a warm, welcoming and caring place. It’s been emotionally rewarding on so many levels but the best for me is listening to life stories, working with patrons and helping them achieve their life goals.”
The process of establishing a non-profit society for The Key is already in the works according to Judy Cormier, academic advisor and program coordinator. “We are researching several different avenues for funding in order to keep our doors open.”
The impacts of closing would be significant according to Cormier. “We have a unique opportunity here in Fort St. James to not only maintain but to further develop and establish a truly holistic, plus culturally and socially relevant venue for our First Nations community and the community at large.”
McCormick couldn’t agree more. “Our community is becoming more confident and resilient. The Key is supporting education as a catalyst for change.”