The Summerland Asset Development (SADI), a non-profit charitable organization started in 1998 to provide activities, opportunities, support and resources for Summerland youth, is organizing the forum scheduled for Oct. 25 at Centre Stage Theatre.
SADI board member Don Gibbings, one of the forum organizers, hopes that this venue will engage a wide variety of community players in finding measures that lead to concrete actions.
“The youth are a significant part of this community,” he said. “The more we can do to support youth, the healthier the community will be.”
Gibbings says the community as a whole is “very supportive” of youth and their concerns. But this assessment does not justify complacency, he adds.
“I think we can always improve,” he says. “It is an ongoing, evolving process.”
Plans for the forum are taking shape during a period of growing concern about the regional demographics.
New figures released last month reveal that Summerland lost 2.2 per cent of its population in 2010 as it ranks among the oldest communities in the province. Consider the numbers. Seniors aged 65 and over make up 25.4 per cent (or 2,911 residents) of the local population. That figure exceeds the province-wide number of seniors (15 per cent) and the total number of local residents aged 0 through 24, which account for 25.2 per cent of the local population.
Youth aged up to age of 17 make up about 16.9 per cent of the population.
This same statistics also suggest that many youth once they become young adults turn their back on the community in the search for educational and professional opportunities in larger centres, where they are also more likely to enjoy greater cultural diversity and variety.
While Gibbings concedes that the forum will not likely produce any immediate direct recommendations for future actions, he hopes that it will inform a long-term process that end up generating changes down the road.
“Our real aim is not to have a one-night wonder,” he said. “I think what we are trying to do is get various community services to support youth.”
Meetings of this kind certainly have a precedent. A comparable meeting in 1998 led to the formation of SADI. This inaugural meeting revealed what might be described as a disconnect between local youth and the rest of the population.
Older residents particularly seniors at the time had expressed reservations if not fears about interacting with young people, says Gibbings. Others elements of the community particularly some business owners — whom Gibbings refused to name — also treated youth with disrespect. Things have improved since, says Gibbings, adding that it has also inspired measures that see youth reach out to seniors.
“It is a two-way street,” he says. ”I like to think there are things that youth can do to get more involved.”
Preparations for the forum are on-going, said Gibbings, who hopes that it will attract representatives from a variety of groups and actors, such as the business community, municipal politics and other segments of the local community. Naturally, the forum aims to pay particular attention to the concerns of youth, says Gibbings.
One speaker has already confirmed — Keith Pattison, the former head of the Boys and Girls Clubs of British Columbia.
Pattison’s participation could be a good omen. He also attended the 1998 conference that led to the formation of SADI.