4 min

Youthquest splinters

Northern branches question head office priorities

Credit: Robin Perelle

BC’s queer youth services organization, Youthquest, is facing revolts from its affiliates while the new executive director tries to steer what he calls a “sinking ship” into calmer waters.

The goal of the 11-year-old organization is to provide support and outreach for queer 13-to-21-year-olds throughout the province as they come to terms with their sexuality and begin the coming-out process.

“Imagine that at the same time you begin to realize you are different, you also come face-to-face with the taunting, bullying, prejudice and even violence that’s out there,” says new executive director Randy Keats. “I’m committed that through Youthquest we can provide support to youth no matter where they live in British Columbia.”

But, says Keats, who took over the helm Jul 1 after Monica Chappell departed, with a lack of funding from both government and private sources, the organization has had to scale back its extensive education and outreach programs to simply operating a dozen drop-ins in communities throughout the province.

He says the organization needs $150,000-$200,000 per year in order to function just at this core services level.

Last year, Vancouver-Burrard MLA Lorne Mayencourt was instrumental in getting the group a $100,000 grant to operate for two years. This year, he brought them a cheque for another $35,000. The cheque was supposed to be earmarked for services to northern BC.

But Youthquest’s Prince George affiliate founder, Shawn Peters, says the money hasn’t filtered out to the affiliates. He wants to know where the $35,000 is. “Prince George has not seen a penny of that,” he says.

Mayencourt confirms the cash was for the North.

“(It was) for the northern outreach program that’s going to be directed out of Prince George,” Mayencourt says. “It is used for providing support groups in the northern region and also for doing outreach into schools that have requested or sought the help of Youthquest.”

Mayencourt called the Prince George affiliate very committed and effective.

Keats says the money is there, he just hasn’t dealt with it yet.

Until recently, Louise Thomson ran services for Youthquest throughout the Fraser Valley and Lower Mainland. She resigned Jun 14. She says she saw the board undermining the work of the volunteers and not communicating with those on the front lines.

“I felt they were really disrespectful toward Prince George. Those guys worked their butts off,” she adds. “I don’t think [the board was] aware of what was going on. I think they had their own agenda.

“This is such a needed service. I would hate to see it go down.”

Keats says the situation cuts both ways. He’s having problems with his affiliates, too. He says he’s spending too much time putting out fires lit by the Prince George group. He has received numerous complaints about the operation, he notes, including one from a lawyer.

And, Keats says, the affiliate agreement will soon be changed so situations such as the one in Prince George-where the local four-person board is dominated by Peters, his partner Michael McDonald and McDonald’s mother, Mary (who also doubles as the local coordinator)-can no longer exist.

“One of the people in Prince George thinks he should be able to call all the shots,” Keats says. “They’re agitants. They’re trying to set our agenda.”

Two weeks ago, Youthquest’s Prince George operation decided to set its own agenda and struck out on its own. On Aug 17, the ex-affiliate’s board and volunteers all resigned. They have now formed their own group called WHAT’S UP, an acronym for Working Hard to Achieve Tolerance in Society and Uniting People.

The same has happened in Smithers.

Charles Wilson was preparing a letter last week to cancel his affiliation with Youthquest, as well. He says he was getting $50 to run four drop-ins a month and to do outreach and education work from Houston, BC to Prince Rupert.

Wilson founded the affiliate group in the Bulkley Valley a year ago and says he’s going to form a new group on his own.

He says communications between himself and the provincial organization have been strained.

“I’ve tried talking but no one’s listening,” Wilson says. “We have to fend for ourselves. I’ve been shoveling money out of my own pocket to keep it going.

“I think it’s quite sad.”

Keats confirms that the Smithers drop-ins were recently suspended but blames a lack of local volunteers. He praises Wilson for his work and says he hopes the operation “will be functioning again in the near future.”

Peters says his new group can no longer raise funds in Prince George as charitable donation receipts from Youthquest’s provincial office have not materialized, leaving the local fundraisers trying to explain to their funders what’s going on.

Peters charges there is no accountability at Youthquest’s provincial head office. And he wants to see the organization changed.

Keats says the only request for a charitable tax receipt he’s seen was from Mary McDonald. And, he says, he has asked for the supporting documentation, such as expense receipts, to provide that charitable receipt but has received nothing. He adds that Youthquest takes taxable donations through which issues receipts immediately.

Peters says the Prince George group isn’t going public with its concerns to bring Youthquest down. Rather, they want financial accountability and all parts of the province to be treated equally. And they want to provide the services queer youth need.

Without a fully filled board and missing financial statements, Peters claims the organization is in violation of the provincial Society Act. And, he charges, the financial statements for 2003 are not up-to-date.

“When they’re not up-to-date, how can they say they have money or they don’t have money?” Peters asks.

The provincial registry of companies and societies has Youthquest’s financial statements for 2002 but not for the past fiscal year. That, however, is not an unusual situation. Nor is it illegal. (Though registered companies and societies are required to file every year, they can miss two years in a row before they risk getting dissolved.)

Keats says the 2003 report has not yet been completed due to Chappell’s having been on sick leave and the transition to a new executive director. He says his first focus is getting Youthquest back into shape and then dealing with “the endless trivia.”

He maintains that the regional affiliates are not being forgotten.

But he is shifting his focus to the Lower Mainland, as he tries to entice its residents to donate either funds or time to help Youthquest survive. It’s all part of the refocussing that is necessary due to limited funds, he says.

Mayencourt says he is aware of the funding problems and has requested an updated strategic plan. But, he says, it’s all fine and well for the queer community to praise the program and brag about its spending power. He says it’s time for the well-heeled community to open its chequebooks.