"Columbus House seeks to improve the quality of life for youth in Renfrew County by providing structured, supportive, safe residential and day programs in a Christian environment while pursuing their education or training."
About COLUMBUS HOUSE (PEMBROKE) INC
In the late 1980’s a group of businessmen and educators in Renfrew County became concerned with the number of youth dropping out of school due to family instability and stressors out of their control. With the support of the local Knights of Columbus, Columbus House became a registered not-for-profit agency and opened it’s doors in 1989 with two residences for teens between the ages of 16 and 20 who were unable to live at home but were still in high school. These homes have supported over 750 youth to complete high school, reconnect with their families when possible, and learn important life skills to transition to healthy adults. Our Young Parent Support Program began in 2000. Columbus House is governed by a Board of Directors.
The residential program is a safe, structured voluntary program unique in Ontario. Two residential homes are located in Pembroke, housing up to 6 males and 7 females. The youth,16 – 21, are referred by teachers, social workers, parents, physicians, probation services, and self-referrals. They must be attending school, college, or an apprentice program full time. The average length of stay is one school term, although a number have stayed a full 3 years until they graduate. Often the family just needs a break from the difficult teen years. Child & Youth workers act as mentors, teachers, and counselors to assist the youth in achieving short and long-term goals. A careful interview process ensures that the teen understands the structure of the program (homework time, life skill training, curfews). We follow a restorative practice model, meaning that incidents that occur are discussed by staff and the youth themselves to understand why the incident happened, how the behaviour affected others, what could have been done differently, and finally what action needs to be taken.
The youth are encouraged to work part-time and/or volunteer if schooling allows. Many of our teens have never had a job. Transition staff support the youth shortly after admission in preparing a resume, researching employment opportunities, and assisting them with applications, interviews, and call backs. All youth are expected to have a part-time job in the summer. We partner with F&CS as part of the SETT (summer employment training for teens) As well, the residents volunteer in the community, presently looking after the memorial garden in Pembroke.
Programming in the residences includes a focus on healthy nutrition and lifestyle. Teen Compass (unplugged) is an Outdoor Leadership program that allows the residents at Columbus House to immerse themselves into outdoor activities while being 'unplugged' from their day to day use of technology. This program is designed to provide youth the opportunity to further develop much needed life skills and to discover their innate abilities and strengths. They explore different areas while camping, canoeing, snowshoeing and hiking at the same time as they are meeting team and individual challenges. Experiential education can be defined as 'learning by doing, combined with reflection' and so at the end of each day all youth participate in group discussions and individual journaling to reflect on the accomplishments achieved and any barriers encountered. The Teen Compass program expanded in February to add another opportunity to assist more youth in our community who may be attending an alternative school program and experiencing difficulty with sitting in a classroom setting all day. Two afternoons a week, youth arrive for youth followed by group work led by professionals from the community on various topics and skills, ie. job searching, communication building, topics related to drug/alcohol use, etc.
In order to support Renfrew County youth, Columbus House is now partnering with ‘Safe Shelter for Youth’ to provide emergency housing. Either Columbus House staff, or staff through F&CS will assist the youth in obtaining financial support, school admission, permanent housing, and referrals to other agencies (such as mental health/addictions) if appropriate. We recently received a grant through Canada’s 150 and Pembroke/Petawawa Community Foundation to support this initiative.
Over the years at the girls’ residence we housed a number of pregnant and parenting teens and as soon as the provincial government was willing we began the ‘Young Parent Support Program’. This program has grown incredibly over the past 10 years to encompass all of Renfrew County. Permanent full time programs operate in Pembroke and Renfrew. Outreach is available, as finances allow, in Arnprior, Petawawa, Deep River, Eganville, Killaloe, and Barry’s Bay as needed. Teachers are provided by both English School Boards to instruct over 30 young mothers each year to acheive high school credits. Many of these young women have been out of school for a number of years and require 10 credits or more to complete their OSSD. A graduation is held each June. Workshops are provided by the Renfrew County Health Unit, Women’s Shelter and Support Services, Addiction Services, Ontario Works, and other community agencies to support parenting, job preparation, and life skills. The school boards provide a high school credit for these workshops. A number of our clients have gone on to further education however for many, we consider it a great success to assist them in making better choices in partners, avoiding high risk behaviours, and increasing their self esteem.
Licensed child care is provided on site in the ‘Young Parent Support Program’. Hands on parenting, and concurrent programming support child development and attachment. The mother and child are treated as a dyad. Again, working closely with the Renfrew County Health Unit, ensures the healthy development and/or early identification of any problem areas with the children. Subsidies are provided by the County of Renfrew Child Care Department.
Columbus House is funded mainly through the provincial government (The Ministry of Children and Youth), fundraising (including our annual fall gala, the Baby Bottle drive for churches, a 3rd party golf tournament), individual donations, bingo, and occasional grants. The province has increased operational funding only 3% in the past 24 years. Renfrew County has an extremely poor tax base due to a lack of industry located here. Transportation issues are huge and an area in which we do not receive any annual financial support. Programs such as Teen Compass, programming (including transportation, educational outings, nutrition classes) for the Young Parent Support program, and school supplies, computer assistance, special occasion programming (such as Christmas, graduation) are always at risk.
Please visit our website www.columbushouse.ca for more information and upcoming events. As well, please don’t hesitate to contact Tina Belanger, Executive Director if you have any questions, suggestions, or requests. We would also love to speak to any organization or membership who would like to hear about our programs.
Tina Belanger - Executive Director