The Quesnel Tillicum Society Native Friendship Centre is much more than a building.
The centre, located at 319 North Fraser Dr., offers a wide variety of programs and services for community members, and it has also become a hub where people can come in and get a hot cup of coffee, have a conversation and pick up free clothes or books if they need them.
“We’re becoming such a hub, and it’s beautiful to see families come in and kids go one way and parents and Elders go another way,” says Kristina Martin, the Family Finder/Kith and Kin co-ordinator. “Everybody always utilizes us, our coffee’s always on, which was important to my grandmother in our home – coffee is always on for people to come in and have a meeting and see a smiling face and just connect on that day and hopefully in a positive way so that we see them coming back tomorrow. Sometimes, we’re the check-in for community. Lots of community agencies call us and say ‘have you seen so-and-so? Yes, we have, they’re alive and they’re good today.’ I really think there’s a ton of important things that go on at this place. I love it here.”
The Quesnel Tillicum Society Native Friendship Centre offers a wide variety of programs and services.
There is a family support worker, youth outreach worker, a family finder, a cultural programmer, an employment co-ordinator, youth project co-ordinator, a family law advocate, a legal advocate, FASD co-ordinator, mental wellness clinician, alcohol and drug counsellor, program co-ordinator and a point-of-care nurse.
They host Elders circles and gatherings, cultural programs, kids’ programs, parenting programs, a Just the Basics mental wellness and self-care workshop, and they also present the annual Traditional Pow Wow and National Aboriginal Day Celebration.
“We partner with lots of other organizations too,” said Martin. “They’ll run lots of programs here too.”
The centre also offers hall and meeting room rentals.
Martin says they always try to make food for people to eat, and they do breakfasts for people who come in on Friday mornings.
The centre accepts donations of clothing, smaller household items and books so they can offer items for free to people who need them.
One of the newest programs they initiated in the past year is the Unplug and Play program, an early years initiative that takes place once a week.
“It’s an opportunity for families to connect together and play,” said Jenna Turner. “We call it Unplug and Play, so we have no cellphones … just to have nobody playing on their phones, just engaging and connecting.”
The Unplug and Play group meets every Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
“It’s for any caregiver with children from zero to six,” said Charlene Vankoughnett. “We do focus a lot on infant development tools, such as we have our sensory table, we have a little trampoline for balance and jumping, we have other things to help children crawl over and under and through, to just get them mobile and motivated. We also have the ability now to look for areas where children may be having challenges, maybe in speech or motor skills as well, and we can do a lot of other referrals out to other agencies.”
This program is part of what’s called Community Action Plan for Children (CAPC)and Fetal Alcohol and Drugs Resource, and Vankoughnett has resources for families who want to learn more about Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).
“We also fill gaps in the community by having what I call The Moms Group, and it helps moms come out, and it’s about the moms this time, it’s to help them meet other moms, get support, share stories, create friendships,” said Vankoughnett, adding they also offer children’s programs such as Mother Goose, parenting programs, and they run a Moms for Recovery Group and a Home Visitors program to work with families to empower them to become independent. Vankoughnett is also a doula and can support mothers with their pregnancy and delivery for free.
They have a community garden as well.
“That helps with life skills as well, not only for moms but for children as well,” said Vankoughnett. “We’ve also started a little garden with the Unplug and Play; it just gives them some incentive to learn some skills. Anytime I get to see children learning from Elders, it’s top-down learning, and they get to build that relationship as well.”
The centre focuses on the global FASD Awareness Walk each Sept. 9 as well.
“We are globally recognized as participating in FASD awareness,” said Vankoughnett. “I’m proud of that because it’s important that our whole world knows where the supports are and that we are part of that global movement.”
Executive director Tony Goulet says the centre has been here for 45 years, but people still often ask him what they do.
“There’s quite the history here over the 45 years,” he said. “We’ve taken on the Pow Wow, which is huge for the Aboriginal community. For 45 years, they just ran with it and made it happen, expanding from here in the hall to the youth soccer field – that’s huge. Over the time, it’s expanded, and we’ve added the house next door and Jean’s Catering, which we operate as a social enterprise, which we use to help us bring back to the community by doing catering and food service.”
Goulet says they are currently working towards building multi-family housing in the lot between the Native Friendship Centre and the house next door, which is where they hold a lot of their CAPC and Fetal Alcohol and Drugs Resource programs.
“We have a consultant and some drawings, and we’re looking at multi-family housing, and we’re looking at short-term stays as well,” he said.
Friendships centres across the province saw a million people walk through their doors in 2018, according to Goulet. Last year, 45,000 people contacted the Quesnel Tillicum Native Friendship Centre.
During the 2018 wildfires, the centre opened its hall for people to come in.
“We had a camp where kids could come, and you could let your kids play with other kids, and the parents could just go do what they had to do,” said Goulet. “It wasn’t funded by anyone; we just took the initiative. And that’s the thing – the centre just opens up to the community. We just see something and we end up saying ‘that’s what we need to do,’ which is really good. Our staff and all of us are flexible so we can help the people in the best way we can.”
Goulet emphasizes their services are not only for the Aboriginal community.
“We will never turn anybody away,” he said. “If they need something, we’ll try to do the best that we can to help them. We offer the services to the entire community. We have a policy where we’re inclusive of everyone, which is really nice. We’re not dividing between this and that.”
The Quesnel Tillicum Society Native Friendship Centre is holding its annual general meeting Thursday, June 13, and Martin hopes more people will become members.
“We would love to have volunteers and more board members; that really keeps our organization going,” she said.
All the programs offered at the centre are free for participants, and having more members involved in the society helps their chances of getting grants to continue to be able to offer programs for free, explains Martin.
“That’s why funding and things like having a board and the more members we have, it helps with getting funding,” she said.