Carving program has helped save young lives
By Ainslie Cruickshank on May 3, 2012 at 3:34 pm
Photo by Vince Fedoroff
A local carving program for at-risk youth is in jeopardy after the Yukon government committed to provide only half of the organization’s required core funding.
The Northern Cultural Expressions Society is a local non-profit group that runs a four-year carving program.
The program was created in 2004 by the Sundog Retreat Centre. In the past, it ran two separate programs, one for beginners and one for advanced students.
Previously, Service Canada funded the beginners program while the Yukon government funded the advanced program, but three years ago, Service Canada cut its funding.
Since that time, the organization has been “limping along,” said Dianne Villesèche, the society’s board president.
The Yukon government continued to fund the advanced program but the society hasn’t been able to accept any new beginner students for more than two years.
The carving programs are now combined into one, but the Yukon government is still only providing half the funding required to run it – $345,000 from the Department of Tourism and Culture.
“That amount of money only allows us to barely hang on,” Villesèche in an interview Wednesday.
The society had originally asked for almost $900,000 to fund its program but Villesèche said they whittled the request down to close to $620,000 every year for five years.
Without the full amount, the organization can’t take beginner students, can’t hire an executive director and can’t hire a counsellor which Villesèche said “is desperately needed in our organization.”
She said the society may be forced to review its program offerings, which could mean transitioning into a drop-in centre or, at worst, shutting down entirely – a huge blow to the community.
“We’re taking the kids that have not had any success in their lives previously and giving them a way out, and most of them are taking it; you can’t put a price on that,” Villesèche said.
Some of the carving program participants might have ended up on welfare, in the justice system or in a hospital bed, she said.
“Instead of doing that, they’re being productive members of society, they’re being self-sufficient, some of them are creating their own self-employment, they’re finding a way out of what they are born into,” she said. “A lot of them have come from families that have struggles and a lot of it is left-over effects from residential schools.”
Many of the students who have left the program have gone onto post-secondary schooling.
Villesèche said a couple of students have gone to Emily Carr, while a few others went onto the Freda Diesing School of Northwest Coast Art.
Another student just completed her first year in a criminology program, while many others went on to Yukon College and are now working in trades.
For those who hadn’t completed high school, many participants of the carving program have gone on to complete their education at an Individual Learning Centre.
When the program was receiving Service Canada funding, the participants would receive a small stipend.
First-year students received $250 a week, while second- and third-year students would get $125.
The idea of the stipend was to teach students to treat the program like a real job. If students didn’t show up, their stipend was docked, said Villesèche.
The idea of the stipend also helped get beginner carvers in the door.
The fourth-year students didn’t receive a stipend; they were expected to make a living from their carving and from teaching.
With the funding cuts, no students receive stipends.
The society’s senior carvers visit schools across the territory and run carving workshops with students in elementary and secondary school.
Next week, the advanced carvers will be running a workshop at a school in Mayo.
They’ve also held carving workshops at the correctional centre.
Yesterday in the legislature, members voted unanimously to pass a motion urging both governments to continue to financially support the Northern Cultural Expressions Society. Some of the society’s supporters looked on from the visitors’ gallery.
But it doesn’t appear the Yukon government is considering increasing the amount it’s providing the organization.
Rick Lemaire, the director of the cultural services branch of the Department of Tourism and Culture, said the government’s intent is to work with the society to try to get the Service Canada funding reinstated.
The $345,000 from the Yukon government, he said, represents the sum total of the territorial government’s support at this time.
The $620,000 requested works out to about half the society’s budget for 2012-2013. The total budget is almost $1.2 million with about $500,000, every year for five years, coming from the federal government’s National Crime Prevention Centre.
However, a stipulation on that funding means none of it can be used for the carving program; instead, it is used for workshops for at risk youth.
Other funding comes from fund-raising, participant sponsorships, sales from the gallery and fees from the school programs.
Villesèche first became involved with the organization as a parent and a volunteer.
Her daughter Sara started with the organization when she left high school in Grade 11.
Villesèche said Sara had been bullied and was having a difficult time in school. She started in the carving program and has been there ever since.
“That place has saved lives; there’s been a number of students who are extremely high-risk and they’ll be the first ones to tell you that place saved their life,” said Villesèche.
Last year, she was approached by some of the organization’s members and asked to run for president to help secure future funding. She was elected in April 2011.
Villesèche said she’s not only involved because of Sara.
“I truly believe in what they’re doing. I came from a rough start in life and there was no one there to help me along the way, and I was just lucky enough to succeed for a lot of different reasons, but I was just lucky.
“I’ve been where a lot of these students are. I really, truly believe in what we’re doing,” she said.
“Carving is the vessel to get these kids where we want them to be in terms of building their self-confidence, teaching them life skills, teaching them business and marketing skills and helping them to develop a sense of pride in themselves, who they are, and where they came from.”