A snowy dark Ottawa night is no match for the warmth of OCYI partner The Door Youth Centre. Located on the second level of 755 Somerset Street West, this vibrant youth centre is open Monday to Friday from 4:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m. serving up homestyle dinners, programs, support, resources and activities to Ottawa youth between the ages of 12-18.
Tonight’s tour guide, Malik Ayass, has been The Door’s Executive Director since 2003 and is passionate about the centre’s role in the community. “Parents know that every teenager is at risk and that is why they sign them up for sports, camps and activities to keep them busy. But what happens to the teenagers who don’t have these opportunities due to their social economic background or the mental health of their parents? The Door works to level the playing field for everyone. We want the kids who come here to have it all too. To empower them to become a positive influence in their adult life.”
Just beyond a colourful lobby, full of happy youth and staff, a cheerful hallway is lined with photos and bulletin boards covered in information about available resources, job postings, upcoming events, programs, activities and the week’s menu. Brightly painted rooms include a homework room, health resource room, music room, games room, clothing closet and recreation room.
Community support, fundraising, donations and funding from partners like the City of Ottawa, allow The Door to provide everything that it offers to youth for free.
All that is requested in return is that youth follow the Code of Conduct, clean up, help when asked and have fun. One thing that makes Ayass most proud is that surveyed youth repeatedly report feeling safe when spending time at The Door.
For Ayass, joy come from many aspects of his role. “I like overcoming challenges, looking for opportunities for the centre and trying to make a difference in the lives of youth. I love the kindness and involvement of staff, the Ottawa community and our many volunteers. Seeing the endless creativity of teenagers is extremely inspiring.”
Memorabilia on his office wall include pictures of youth who have died by house fire, murder and a drug overdose. “We have successes and sad stories. These youth are part of The Door and part of our family. We honour them here and grieve together.”
These images are also a somber reminder of how much The Door is needed by local youth. Pre-pandemic numbers show that in 2019 alone 3779 meals were served, 3,926 youth visits were made to the centre, and 382 hours were spent by youth in the homework room.
For Ayass, a success story would be that of a 13-year-old youth who next receives their 40 volunteer hours onsite and later becomes a youth worker. He has nothing but praise for a new board member, now a university graduate, who started his own journey at The Door as a young teenager.
As success stories usually entail youth aging out of The Door, Ottawa can provide support simply by spreading the word. “We need kids to know that there is somewhere safe for them to hang out, get volunteer hours, find support and learn. Outreach is key for The Door so that the new generation knows that it is here for youth.”
Asked why The Door has chosen to be one of OCYI’s partners, Ayass says that partnership and alignment is key in supporting youth. “All of OCYI’s partners are striving to help kids find services, have somewhere to go, and provide opportunities otherwise unmet. We are all here for the same cause, which is the success of Ottawa’s young people, and to help each other with this goal.”
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