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Brantford-based charity empowers youth to find their purpose and achieve their potential  

Community ProfileBrantford-based charity empowers youth to find their purpose and achieve their potential  

For over 20 years, the Why Not City Mission has committed to helping vulnerable youth better their lives through mentorship opportunities, innovative programs, and specialized support.

Karen Stewart, who has been the Mission’s Executive Director since late 2022, explains how important it is to build trust with the youth that comes into the centre.

“Our mission is to empower youth, through relationships and we are always working to have youth thrive and [achieve their] potential and purpose. We start them at our Youth Center, and those are for ages 13 to 19, which are their formative years. With our staff, our volunteer team, and our placement students, we build trust [and] relationships with these youth. We have hot meals, fun activities, sports [and] special events, whatever it takes to build that relationship,” explained Stewart continues. “From that point, as we get to know them…[and] they’ll start to share their stories. They will tell us the needs that they have, [and] bring their problems to us. We can then help them to take those next steps. We are here to fill the gaps; a lot of the time where their family cannot do that. A lot come [here] without having a supportive family system or don’t have a lot of community connections. So, it’s critical that we step in and fill that need for them.”

Pictured here is a young man who graduated from High School. He turned his life around through programs offered at Why Not City Missions. Photo courtesy Why Not City Missions.

The Why Not City Mission, was founded by Charlie and Sue Kopczyk in 2002. The couple was keen on creating a supportive and inclusive environment for youth that encouraged their social development and personal growth which continues to this day. Stewart explains some of the programs the Mission offers.

“Most of our kids come seven nights a week to our Youth Center which is a big drawing point. We also have launched additional special housing programs. One is for young men, which is a semi-supportive house. They’re learning life skills [and] they are working through goal setting [and] stabilizing [their] mental health. [They also] have access to a counselor. And they’re learning all those pieces on how to successfully move towards some independent living,” Stewart said. “That program is for youth that are aged 18 to 25. They see staff about five days a week [and] have access to the youth center as well for food support from our food bank…[they] can come in [and] have a safe space to hang out for an afternoon if they’re free…And then the last program that we launched was born out of a need that we saw through the Youth Centre.

In 2022, Why Not City Missions officially launched Why Not Youth Housing and the opening of their first house called ‘Charlie’s Place.’ Why Not created and launched Why Not Youth Housing to stamp out homelessness for youth who are at the highest risk and help them prepare for a productive adulthood. Photo courtesy Why Not City Missions.

Another program, Stewart explains, focuses on helping girls who are pregnant and have no housing or support.

“We saw a lot of our young girls getting pregnant, especially during COVID and there was nowhere for them to go…So they would have to leave town to get supportive housing. A lot of them did not have appropriate houses where they could raise a baby so they just needed both housing and learning how to parent well,” she said. “We created a program [and] bought a house that has seven bedrooms, and staffed that program seven days a week, 24 hours a day, just because there are babies involved. They’re going through life skills programs like cooking, budgeting, keeping a house clean and tidy, and doing minor maintenance. But they’re also learning how to parent that baby [and] making sure that baby’s first year of life is very solid.”

Pictured here are children at the Carnival Night at the Youth Centre. Photo courtesy Why Not City Missions.

Although Stewart and the Mission’s staff have worked and helped many youths, seeing 30 to 40 youths coming through the Youth Center on a nightly basis several stories have resonated with her.

“There [was a] young person that experienced some pretty bad childhood abuse and through our programming [and] talking to her through some therapy, we’ve been able to connect her with. She’s starting to see the power of letting go of that bitterness and that anger, that she was holding on to her whole life. And that has been a powerful change [as she was] was able to heal [and] and become more comfortable with sharing her story,” said Stewart

Pictured here are the staff of the SHYP program (Supportive Housing for Young Parents.) Why Not City Missions continues to expand on established programs or develop new ones to help disadvantaged youth in the city. Photo courtesy Why Not City Missions.

Stewart noted another story that involved a young mother and achieving some key educational goals.

“We had a young mom who came to live with us with her baby. And she didn’t stay for a long time [but] we were able to help stabilize her life. She made some goals [and one of them was that] she wanted to graduate high school. We had a tutor on site [and] helped her to get through high school and [eventually] graduate. She started to see success [and] realized that she wanted to do more. [Before coming here] she never contemplated that she would ever be able to go to college…We helped her to apply…and now she is off to college soon,” Stewart said.  

Stewart and her team are always continually expanding current programs or initiatives as well as developing new ones to grow their positive reach to help more children and youth.

“We are on the cusp of being able to expand our girl’s house to the full seven-bedroom capacity. We’re just waiting for the zoning, and bylaws to change in Brantford and then we will hopefully be able to operate the full seven bedrooms at the house. So that will be a big increase. [And] we continue to develop, retool…and tailor all our programs to meet the needs of the youth that come in,” she said.

Pictured here is the Youth Centre youth wearing ‘Yes You Can’ theme shirts from the mission’s annual end-of-summer camping trip for the Youth Centre youth. Photo courtesy Why Not City Missions.

However, the funding for the Mission comes from private donations, grants, and various fundraising events including ‘The Coldest Night of the Year Walk’, the annual Golf Tournament, and the Fall Fundraiser Dinner. The Mission also strives to continually build partnerships. 

“We sit on a few committees right now [and we are] starting to partner together [with other organizations] to see how we can tackle the housing crisis that we face… [we are] making sure we’re maxing out our capacity within our existing programs. Then we will see what the future holds but we’re always on the hunt for new ideas and new ways to impact our youth,” Steward continued. “We have a fantastic staff team and they’re all 100% passionate about supporting our youth…we’re always being innovative and finding creative new ways to engage kids in a meaningful way.”

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