Providing a consistent, accountable, safe space for First Nations youth

Colleen Turtle has been working with WJS for so long that when she started, she says they used pagers. Today, she’s the Manager of a youth resource program that is in place to help First Nations youth.

While a lot has changed between her early days and now, for this program’s success, consistency is key.

The Shortstop Resource program provides a transition space for youth before they are placed in a home, reunified with family, or simply need a safe place to sleep.

“We’re here to provide stability,” says Colleen. “The doors are open, we can’t stop them from coming and going. But we’re here to let them know that someone cares and to give them a safe place to live.”

The space is set up to feel like a home, with lots of plants, a garden, comfortable beds, warm showers, and good food. Colleen says you don’t want kids to walk in and feel like they’ve entered another institution. It’s important to prioritize their basic needs: don’t overwhelm them, give them space and opportunity to grow, observe them and let them observe you, let them know the support is there and they’ll take it if and when they want to. “We’re not here to fix things, we’re here to support,” Colleen says.

Sometimes it takes weeks before the kids will even talk. The consistency of the house rules and expectations help them feel like they’re not going to be judged. They can be angry, they can be quiet, they can need to stay in bed for the day. What’s important is to let them feel that support is there regardless. One day, they might turn around and ask for a hug, and Colleen is there to give it to them.

Colleen estimates she’s seen about 1600 youth go through her program. There are sad stories and uplifting ones. Throughout it all, she keeps the basic needs and approach the same. The kids just need to know that there’s a safe place for them. Colleen’s passion and accountability to these services make sure of it.

“I do this because I want to be here. No other reason.”