Youth at risk are keeping it clean.
They are plucking, scrubbing, weeding and gathering up all the blights in key areas of the city's downtown.
If you suggest a place they can clean up - public or private - the Future Cents team might be able to swoop in.
Future Cents is a leadership and personal development program from youth in danger of winding up on the streets or in conflict with authorities. They have passion, energy, and a willingness to better themselves by bettering their city, according to group leader Rikki Beaudet.
"We are based in the heart of downtown. These are street-involved or at-risk youth. They live here; this is their area. They really see the downtown," said Beaudet. "Knowing that the 2015 Canada Winter Games was coming here, and the city's centennial was coming up, it is more important now than ever that our streets be clean and send a positive message. They chose to apply themselves with a downtown beautification project."
The work they do is free.
Their program is funded primarily by Service Canada's Skills Link Program, with contributions from the provincial Ministry of Children and Family Development and private supporters. So far they worked with City Hall to give a makeover to the vacant lot where the Columbus Hotel once was, they have targeted graffiti in alleys, and, most recently, they worked for the community garden on Victoria Street to weed and tidy that lot.
"I've lived in Prince George my entire life and didn't know we had a community garden. You learn stuff about your town and you meet so many new people. It's opening doors," said Megan Roberts, 23. She sees the beautification project as one more way Future Cents is benefiting the city. "It's awesome for us to get out into the community and it's awesome that the community has us."
Pulling weeds alongside her was 19-year-old Marc Cragg. He was angry that the city's downtown had so many places left unkempt by landowners and the municipality and was happy to be volunteering his time to make it look better.
"I'm thinking about the people who'll see it afterwards, because when you see garbage and glass and filth everywhere it's not fun," he said. "When you see a lot that is cleaned up, not dumped on like the other places, with nice benches and garden boxes and what-have-you, it makes people happy."
The Future Cents program has been operating for 15 years but this is the first time they have done a group project. Beaudet said Skills Canada was willing to support the idea instead of the usual slate of individual projects done by the class.
Each cohort is about a dozen youth (aged 15 to 30) who commit to 30 hours per week in the Future Cents program. The current group started in mid-June and will continue until the end of October. About half their weekly time is devoted to the downtown beautification project.
The downtown beautification project is only one aspect of their time together. They are also developing their job readiness situation, and doing hands-on creations that will dovetail into their beautification plans (outdoor furniture, unique planters, etc.) while teaching practical skills.
For Cragg, who wants to turn his drawing aptitudes into a career in art and animation, these aspects of the program are invaluable. For Roberts, her aspirations to be a youth-care worker are also well served.
"Here you get to work with youth who have barriers. We help each other. And I can imagine what it would be like to do that for a living, because we take care of each other, we understand each other, and there are no judgments," she said.
The beautification and creation aspects of the daily agenda are all handled by the youth themselves. If they decided to make decorative planters out of recycled tires, for example, they write the letters and make the phone calls to obtain the tires and the paint, they research the patterns, they source the tools necessary, and they divide the workload. All of it us under the supervision of a small team of staff (Beaudet, Alanna Gautreau and Melvin Campbell).
"The youth feel empowerment that they are giving back to their community, they are networking, they are setting goals and working towards them as a team, it is a huge range of skills they are getting," said Beaudet. "Often, young people feel disenfranchised and disconnected from their community, but for a city councillor [Brian Skakun] to notice them cleaning up a dirty lot and come over to meet them and ask questions and say thanks, that really has an impact. That's the kind of thing they are getting from this."
Anyone wishing to contribute to their efforts or inquire about restorative work they could do downtown is invited to contact Future Cents at 250-645-3992.