By Debra Downey, Senior Editor
Merceddez Revell-Hicks wasn’t accustomed to friendly faces.
The warm, enthusiastic welcome was one of the first things she noticed when she walked through the doors of the Routes Youth Centre.
“Everybody was so friendly. I wasn’t used to people being nice to me,” said Merceddez. “It was nice to have people say, ‘Hi,’ and ask me about my day.”
The Routes Youth Centre is a drop-in and counselling program that provides intervention, education and prevention for marginalized and at-risk youth in the community. The goal is to help young people find socially productive and satisfying “routes” to pursue in their lives.
Merceddez starting attending programs at the centre about seven years ago. Her favourite activity is Girls Night Out, a designated time for young women to get together to discuss issues like body image, relationships, friendships and drugs.
Along with these more serious topics, the girls also kick back and enjoy manicures, pedicures and facials.
“Routes has given me confidence,” said Merceddez, now 19. “I didn’t respect myself before and I felt very little about myself. Routes has helped me build up my self-esteem, and the staff have become like older sisters.”
Merceddez was one of the speakers at last year’s Routes Youth Centre gala, the group’s major fundraising event. She said she was “petrified” to speak in front of a crowd but put her fears aside to tell people about her childhood and the impact Routes has had on her life. Merceddez was shocked to receive a standing ovation from those in attendance.
Merceddez has just completed a bridge program through Mohawk College that has allowed her to attain both college and high school credits. Her life in on track, thanks to Routes.
“Routes is strength, family and courage,” she said. “Routes does a really good job of welcoming everybody and making everyone feel happy and loved.”
Merceddez even has a solid plan for her future…well, sort of. Right now, it’s a toss up between becoming a book editor because she “absolutely loves” reading, or a personal support worker because she wants to help other people, especially seniors.
This year’s Routes Youth Centre dinner and silent auction takes place on Friday, Feb. 22 at the Dundas Lions Memorial Community Centre, 10 Market St., in Dundas. The theme is Daring to Dream. Doors open at 6 p.m. A brief update of Routes and its 2012 successes will follow dinner.
Last year’s guest speaker, Pigskin Pete, also known as Dan Black, held a spell-bound audience captivated as he spoke about the challenging circumstances he faced early in his life.
“I wish there had been a place like Routes Youth Centre when I was a youth,” he
said. “My life might have been different.”
Support of the Routes Youth Centre gala helps fund staff and programming to assist youth. Programs include a Friday night drop-in; an after-school program for youth wanting to study and get help on school assignments; Dinner and Discussion to talk about world events and issues; Boys Night Out; Girls Night Out; Jive, which aims to get youth physically active; and Kids Talk, designed for younger kids to meet with staff to discuss relevant issues in their lives.
Through a Civic Leadership Program to promote volunteerism, Routes youth also participate in the 30 Hour Famine to raise money to help the world’s hungry, Hearts for Haiti, scrap metal drives and leaf rake-a-thons.
Tickets for the banquet are $50 per person. Call 905-627-4334 or 905-929-0572. For more information, visit www.routesyouthcentre.ca