Giving kids a safe place to be kids is everything to Janae Ulrich.
As the general manager of the Redcliff Youth Centre, the child and youth care counsellor (CCYC) graduate now sees a different side to her town. Raised in a large, tight-knit family, Ulrich completed her schooling in Redcliff and attended Medicine Hat College so she could stay close to home. During her time in the CCYC program, she worked at the youth centre as a practicum student and quickly learned that not all childhood experiences were like her own.
“When I was growing up in Redcliff, this wasn’t a place you came. It had a bit of a stigma. Now it’s totally flipped,” says Ulrich who sees an average of 25 kids coming through the door of the youth centre on a daily basis.
“It was shocking to know that in our own community there are kids in need, that there are youth who are struggling or living in transitional housing. I don’t think a lot of people realize that or know how big the need is for youth, right here at home.”
Ulrich is concerned about how many kids are falling through the cracks and hopes that she can address issues on a local level. The centre targets youth between the ages of 10 and 17 and offers a safe and welcoming place for them to go. Ulrich is the only full-time staff member at the centre and has a team of four part-time youth workers to help run programs and act as positive role models.
In addition to the homework, mentorship, and supper programs, youth are taught skills they might not learn elsewhere, like how to cook, budget, write a resume, and do taxes. The centre also partners with the local food bank and greenhouses to ensure there is always food available to help keep hungry stomachs full.
“There are some kids who are here every night because they are not getting much at home. When they address that to us, we stuff their backpacks,” explains Ulrich. “We also have lots of discussions about what’s going on in their lives and help stabilize those conversations.”
Some days are hard. Ulrich admits it is difficult to separate herself from the kids and their experiences, but believes people enter this line of work because of their desire to connect on a personal level.
“I think there is a need for people in this helping profession but you have to love it. Child and youth care counselling is a calling, it really and truly is. I can’t even think about it what it would be like if [the centre] wasn’t here. There are so many kiddos that are here every single day. They bring so much joy to me and I hope they learn as much from me as I learn from them.”
When Ulrich isn’t working directly with the youth, she is busy handling all the administrative tasks that help keep the centre’s doors open. As a non-profit organization, fundraising, grant writing, and building awareness are all critical aspects of her position. Since her start as a practicum student in 2015, Ulrich has seen growth in the organization and looks forward to the future.
“It’s super rewarding to grow up in this community, go to school in this community and be able to give back to the community and the kids who live in Redcliff. It’s up and onward from here.”
Interested in working with kids? Learn more about MHC's child and youth care counsellor program