4 min

Down to three

Youthquest board shrinks, seeks financial audit

'WE HAVE A LOT OF CATCH UP TO DO'. New Youthquest chair Jeff Gauthier says the organization is focusing on re-opening its drop-ins right now, after a period of alleged neglect from the previous board. The New Westminster and Port Moody centres are once again operational and the Abbotsford and Chilliwack sites are scheduled to re-open soon, too, he says. Meanwhile, Gauthier is sitting with just two other people on an 11-seat board and the organization's finances are still being sorted out. Credit: Jacques Gaudet

Since Xtra West last touched base with Youthquest in November, there have been more drastic changes to the board of directors, some movement toward picking up the pieces and some enduring questions about Youthquest’s finances.

Youthquest is BC’s largest support society for rural queer youth, offering drop-in centres, a toll-free number and educational outreach services in non-urban areas.

Last October, Youthquest replaced its entire board of directors with a new one elected by the membership at its annual general meeting. Emotions ran high. There were allegations of impropriety on all sides and a struggle for control of Youthquest’s office and finances.

Now, just three of the 11 seats on the group’s board of directors remain occupied. None of the directors elected back in October remain. The current board members are chair Jeff Gauthier, treasurer Lori Gaites, and secretary Cher Dix.

“We’re getting things done. We have a lot of catch-up to do,” says Gauthier. “With the old board, a lot of things were put aside.

“We’ve been concentrating on re-opening all the drop-in centres that were shut down,” he continues. “New Westminster and Port Moody are re-opened and Abbotsford and Chilliwack will be opening again soon.”

As well as re-opening the drop-ins, Gauthier says they’ve seen an increase in the number of people volunteering to help. “But we’d like more,” he says. The group recently assigned a volunteer to coordinate its Lower Mainland programs and hired a coordinator for its Fraser Valley programs.

The turbulence at Youthquest can be traced back to 2002 when the BC Liberals cut the group’s annual grant. By most accounts, Youthquest was a reasonably well-managed and stable organization until then.

After much behind-the-scenes lobbying from Youthquest’s former directors, the government restored some of its funding in 2003, with a two-year grant of $100,000. (Down from single-year grants of $70,000 from 1999-2001.)

The $100,000 was supposed to stretch for two years until mid-2005, but was exhausted by the end of July 2004, says former Youthquest executive director Randy Keats.

To help Youthquest make it to 2005, the BC Liberals gave the group an extra $35,000 last September to help cover its operational expenses and its director’s salary. (The government also gave the group an additional $35,000 cheque specially earmarked for its Prince George affiliate’s northern education programs.)

By Keats’ estimation, there was at least $25,000-$30,000 left in Youthquest’s bank account when the old board was ousted last October and he left on stress leave.

“When I left at the end of October,” he says, “there was still salary money in the bank account, as well as infrastructure money and money for monthly honoraria for drop-in centre coordinators.

“What has become of that, I don’t know.”

New Youthquest treasurer Lori Gaites says the financial situation at Youthquest is “comfortable” at the moment.

“We’ve been providing some money for movie and pizza nights at the drop-in centres,” she says.

“We haven’t really used the bank accounts over the last few months, so what money there was in them is still there,” she adds.

Gaites says there is a little under $20,000 left in the Youthquest account, which is consistent with Keats’ estimation of Youthquest’s balance when he left in October.

The board has now hired an auditor who is reviewing Youthquest’s books for 2003, Gaites continues. She says information is also being pulled together for an audit of the 2004 books which should get underway soon. The audited financial statements should be available at Youthquest’s next annual general meeting scheduled for some time this spring.

As far as the $35,000 earmarked for northern BC, both Keats and Gauthier say “as far as I know” that money was transferred to WHATS UP Education, the latest incarnation of Youthquest’s former Prince George affiliate group.

WHATS UP coordinator and former Youthquest vice-president Michael McDonald confirms that his group received $30,000 last year, and says the money has been put to good use in a series of education programs and workshops in schools around BC’s north.

Youthquest is now looking for a grant writer to explore the possibility of new fundraising, Gaites says.

Losing the financial, administrative and management experience provided by Keats and pre-October board chair Jim Mann-compounded with the instability of the past few months-may make it difficult for Youthquest to find more money or qualify for new government grants.

But according to Gauthier, the membership genuinely wanted Youthquest to take more of a “grassroots approach” to its work when it overthrew the old board last October.

For the youth, the most important part of Youthquest is the drop-in centres, he explains.

It’s about a vehicle for queer youth to form social networks with like-minded people. The youth seem more interested in fulfilling their immediate need for support, than fundraising to maintain a central administrative apparatus, he says.

“We’re a youth-focused, youth-driven organization,” agrees long-time Youthquest volunteer Nathaniel Wolfe. He’s pleased with the organization’s renewed emphasis on the drop-ins.

Though no longer on the board, Wolfe is still volunteering with Youthquest and is now coordinating its programs in the Lower Mainland. He is supportive of the new board and optimistic that Youthquest will thrive under its direction.

He’d even like to see some participation from past board members. “I think it would be really beneficial to have some former directors coming back to the board,” he says. “I feel their experience and knowledge would be beneficial to the workings of the society.”

As for Keats, he says he never officially resigned or was terminated, but he hasn’t had anything to do with Youthquest since last October-except to officially relinquish his signing authority over the organization’s bank account in early March. Wolfe says he signed Keats’ layoff forms on Feb 22.

Mann, meanwhile, is still smarting over the events of last October, but hopes Youthquest can still make a positive contribution.

“I see a void in the rural communities which is disappointing,” he says.

“It’s hard enough being a teenager at the best of times and being a teenager and being gay is even harder. I wish them well. I believed in the organization and I still do.”

Youthquest’s next annual general meeting is scheduled for sometime this June.

* with files from Robin Perelle