Creating community spaces; repurposing the Holy Rosary Church

ST. STEPHEN – Charlotte County Group Homes, Inc. was incorporated in 1975, and took in its first residents in 1985; the same year Executive Director Jim Stuart came on board. Now, almost 40 years later, the organization has purchased the Holy Rosary Church complex on Union Street in St. Stephen, and has plans that will not only help troubled youth, but the entire community.

Stuart said the plan is to make the former church a “one-stop shop”, or a community hub, so to speak. Charlotte County Group Homes, Inc. is looking to offer multiple services to the community by partnering with other local organizations, and offer those groups space within the building.

“We want to have some safe spaces, perhaps using the kitchen as a community kitchen, a multi-media room, a remote learning centre for either public schools or NBCC or the university due to COVID,” said Stuart. “We want to have boardrooms. We are looking at hopefully having a health clinic. Some of the private office space; we’ll be inviting social workers, mental health, public health, nurse practitioners, family and childhood education, maybe some counsellors; school liaison. We’re going to set up spaces for laundry and showers for people who want to come in, with a private key or card lock.”

Stuart said the organization is also planning on offering a clothing boutique for those who need clothing for a first day on the job, job interviews, first day of school, and so on, and all of these items will be free of charge. Another plan in the works is to be able to offer an RCMP comfort room, a safe space where victims would be more comfortable giving statements to the RCMP rather than being at the station. And the list doesn’t stop there.

“There’ll be some life skills activities for youth and adults,” said Stuart. “We’re also going to have private, small offices. So, you, off the street, could say, ‘I’ve got to do my unemployment. I’ve got to apply for this. It’ll be a private room with computer, internet, phone that you can just access.

“We want to have a hotspot for wi-fi that you can just be able to drive into the yard and use the Internet.”

Stuart said it is important to be able to partner with other local community organizations for this venture, and has been engaging with over 40 stakeholders who are “very supportive of the program”. Now the property has been purchased, the plan can get underway.

“I do have letters of support from the mayor, the MLA’s, from schools, the Department of Social Development, a lot of interest in what we want to do,” said Stuart.

Another idea being investigated is the creation of a warming station for the public. A natural gas generator will be installed, so even if the power goes out, people will have a place to go where they can get warm, have a hot shower, food, etc. It’s an idea Stuart intends to discuss further with the Red Cross.

The former rectory will see bedrooms set-up for youths who age out of the system. For instance, many youth in the foster care system leave the system by the age of 16, or end-up moving back to the life they had previously, because they had no other options.

“We see this all the time,” said Stuart. “We see kids that are 19 years of age that are coming out of the foster system that really haven’t learned how to live on their own. So, this section of the home will be set up for youth transitional housing and homelessness.”

Stuart said there is a three-interview process before youths are accepted into this program, and compared it to applying for and interviewing for employment. He said applicants must either be in school, employed, or volunteer for a minimum of 40 hours weekly. If a youth staying at the residence leaves school or their job, they will not be able to remain in the program. Youth will be required to set themselves up with staff members, set goals for themselves, and meet with a youth worker for a minimum of 10 hours each week.

“They’ll be working on self-management, emotional expression, stress management, problem solving, prioritizing, money management, time management, grocery shopping, emergency preparedness, proper care, job readiness,” said Stuart. “The other part of that is that we are partnering with what is going to be called the Vulnerable Youth program. It’s going to be a program that’s going to be located here. It’s being set up right now and it’s based on the You Yes You program that they’ve been running successfully in Saint John. That is encompassing ages 15 through 20 to take them out of poverty and move them toward self-sufficiency and a healthier lifestyle.”

Currently, Stuart has been sending staff to Transitional Housing in Moncton for training. He said that same, proven program will be brought here, and his staff will receive training, all the necessary paperwork, and such.

“We’re not reinventing the wheel,” said Stuart.

All youth who take part in the program will be required to supply their own food, and Stuart said each bedroom will be equipped with a mini-fridge, and there is a full kitchen they can use to prepare their meals. The goal is to teach kids how to be self-sufficient and live a healthy lifestyle.

“Some of these individuals may be 16 years of age, but they still have to be treated as adults, because they’re living on their own, couch surfing, whatever you want to call it. We can’t give because it’s the part of the program where you have to learn to be self-sufficient.”

To turn this venture into a one-stop shop for the community, Stuart said Charlotte County Group Homes, Inc. will offer spaces for individuals and organizations to do things that are “good for the community”. Depending on the circumstances, many of these spaces will be offered for free. But, with bills to pay, the organization would accept donations from various community groups that wish to use the space. Organizations such as the food bank would be able to use the kitchen space to teach clients how to prepare meals with the food they receive from the food bank, and a service such as this would be offered free of charge.

“Being able to offer her (Donna Linton, coordinator, Volunteer Centre of Charlotte County) that space, and particularly that program, we would never charge that program a cent to use our kitchen. The major thing is, we are a non-profit. This building will always stay non-profit.”

Stuart said his organization, which is in the process of changing its name to “Neighbourhood Works”, is trying to get as many organizations to bring their services to the former church building. He likes a program in Fredericton that has a dentist visit monthly to offer services such as check-ups and dental cleaning. He would also like to partner with Public Health.

“We also want to hire a youth addictions counsellor, because we don’t have one currently in Charlotte County. We have adult, but not specifically youth addiction counsellor. That will be for the youth that are in the home here, and also for the entire community.

“This is going to be a community resource. We do not want to do everything. We do not want to duplicate anything that anyone else is doing, because we have wonderful organizations. We want to partner with them and hopefully give them a space,” said Stuart.

Stuart said there are some organizations that will be moving to the building in the near future, and he hopes to have the youth transitional housing ready to open by January or February, 2022, if they can source funding.

“We’re very excited about repurposing this building. Nothing is carved in stone right now.”

sarigreen@stcroixcourier.ca