Construction is underway on the Urban Society for Aboriginal Youth’s (USAY) new Youth Centre in Calgary and the organization anticipates the modern facility will be a boon for the Indigenous people it supports.
Established in 1999, USAY is an Indigenous-led non-profit organization that supports thousands of Indigenous youth in Calgary between the ages of 12 and 29. It offers more than 40 programs ranging from after-school programs to virtual reality and 3D printing lessons.
“With this new building, we will be able to expand our programming and reach even more young people in the community,” said LeeAnne Ireland, executive director of USAY.
“We believe that this project will have a significant and positive impact on the lives of Indigenous youth in Calgary and we are excited to see the difference it will make.”
In a brochure on the project, USAY writes since its inception, the “organization has continued to rent inadequate spaces throughout Calgary.
“The rental spaces have been inaccessible, unsafe and inefficient, often creating barriers for Indigenous youth attending our programming.”
The new 5,000-square-foot, two-storey centre with an adjoining 6,400-square-foot outdoor lot is seen by the organization as a way to fundamentally improve the way it delivers its services to youth in the area by prioritizing a barrier-free, accessible and reliable gathering space.
The new building was designed by Lemay, an architecture and design firm founded in 1957.
Lemay’s Meghan Galachiuk, project architect, said the team originally considered reusing a building for the project. But that approach changed as they got to know USAY.
“As soon as you met them you wanted to give them everything. They are a very informal organization in terms of the space they have,” Galachiuk said.
“Working with them immediately (you realize) these are the kind of people that deserve a great space.”
Grace Coulter, design director for the project with Lemay, said the building was designed to be both safe and essential.
“Lemay’s practice model is set up to create open dialogues and take time to create space for understanding, and USAY’s youth centre demonstrates the weight we place on meaningful, participatory approaches to co-designing space for communities,” Coulter said.
Lemay prioritized using natural material like wood and plant life in the design and incorporated Passive House strategies like solar gain and biophilia.
The main floor contains program spaces designed for collaboration and socialization, a communal kitchen, an educational area and a maker’s space for skill-building. The second floor is dedicated entirely to USAY staff and has a rooftop space canopied by a pergola.
The rooftop area also has a garden that grows traditional medicines, but perhaps the standout feature is a communal seating area that allows for smudging, constellation teachings with Elders, lounging and self-care.
USAY program co-ordinator Selah Rayne said providing a supportive place for Indigenous people in Calgary to smudge is an important part of the project’s goal.
“There are so many places in the city that, yes, you are able to smudge and, yes, you are able to go to; but they don’t feel safe,” said Rayne.
“That’s something that’s really important to us, where we have a spot where the youth can go be with us, be in community and be with their peers.”
USAY received $3.9 million from the Government of Canada to build the project and raised more than $500,000 from the community. Construction is scheduled to be completed spring 2024.
While USAY staff will have a better space to work out of in the future, the impact on the Indigenous youth who use the non-profit’s services comes before all else.
“Most importantly, urban Indigenous youth who access USAY programs will have a safe and reliable place to call their own,” writes USAY.