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Youthquest moves ahead

Group unveils three-year plan to recover and grow

YOUTHQUEST'S NEW DIRECTORS: Nathaniel Christopher (from left), Fraser Doke, Karen Ayotte (front), Ray Lam, Sylvia Machat, Melanie Cabral, and Dustin Hiles. Not pictured here: Jacob Cosman, Lori Gaites Credit: Matt Mills photo

Although Youthquest is now completely out of money and struggling to pay its phone bill, an ambitious three-year plan to completely recover funding and service levels, and even start new programs, was unveiled at the society’s annual general meeting (AGM), Nov 20.

“If we don’t get some funding, we won’t have any financial reports next year because we won’t have anything to report. No funding, no financials,” Lam told the group of about 25 Youthquest members and a few interested community members at the central branch of the Vancouver Public Library.

“Right now we’re getting through with bare minimums,” he continued. “This 2006 business plan will likely come into play in April or May. It focuses on the drop-in program, the development of a provincial resources centre, developing the website and hosting special events for youth.”

Lam has divided the society’s board of directors into executive committees that will do most of the rebuilding work themselves on a volunteer basis. He wants to expand drop-in centres throughout the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley, focused on two right now and expanding to nine as soon as possible.

He also wants to hire a general coordinator; all this by the end of 2006. He sees even more drop-in centres and more programs by the end of 2008.

Lam’s plans are expected to cost almost $100,000 for 2006 alone.

Youthquest used to be a reasonably well funded not for profit that provided outreach, education, and social networks for young queer people all across BC. Financial results for 2003 and 2004 show a society with almost $200,000 in annual income, mostly from government grants.

No financial statements for 2005 were submitted at the AGM, but treasurer Karen Ayotte says Youthquest has very little money in the bank at any given time these days. She says money that comes in from small fundraising events is used right away to pay bills.

“The financial position right now is that we barely have enough money in the bank to pay for our volunteer coordinator and our phones,” she says. “That Youthquest is still able to survive right now is because of these people sitting here on the board. They’re doing it strictly on a volunteer capacity and they’re doing it because they don’t want to see us shut down.”

The 2004 financial statements also show that the society owes $2,000 of a $35,000 grant for workshops in the north to What’s Up Education, a Prince George group headed by former Youthquester Shawn Peters.

Lam says the board of Youthquest isn’t satisfied with the report Peters filed on how he spent the grant money. “The report is insufficient and was not ratified by our board and so the contract is incomplete,” Lam told the AGM. Peters “is expecting to get a payment even though he hasn’t finished the report.”

“We’re not disputing the fact that we owe them money,” added Ayotte. “What’s up in the air is whether or not the contract has been completed.”

Xtra West was unable to connect with Peters before press time.

Ayotte says Peters has hired a lawyer in an effort to get the money, and Lam says Vancouver lawyer barbara findlay has agreed to represent Youthquest in that negotiation.

In stark contrast to the last Youthquest AGM, this year’s meeting was well ordered and its mood optimistic. There were even some light moments.

At the last AGM in October 2004, the entire board of directors was dramatically ousted by members who wanted Youthquest to devote more resources to youth programs and activities and less to administration and bureaucracy. They wanted an organization that was focused more on social activities where queer youth could meet and get to know each other and less on fundraising.

In the first half of 2005, the society’s board of directors changed almost every month.

Youthquest spiralled through a series of radical and chaotic changes that resulted in the provincial government withdrawing its $150,000 in annual funding.

But since Lam took responsibility for the group, it has become much more stable.

Lam, who is also on the board of the Vancouver Pride Society and Egale Canada, was re-elected as chair of Youthquest at this year’s AGM and his term was extended to three years so he can see his plans to fruition.

Melanie Cabral was elected vice-chair. Nathaniel Christopher was elected secretary. Karen Ayotte was re-elected treasurer. The membership also elected six general directors. They are: Tami Starlight, Lori Gaites, Dustin Hiles, Fraser Doke, Jacob Cosman and Sylvia Machat.