When residents in the area of the Rideau Heights Community Centre noticed new signage posted on the Centre’s doors over the past few weeks, they were understandably concerned.
According to the City of Kingston, the notices in question were posted around March Break at the Community Centre, situated in the heart of the Rideau Heights neighbourhood. But only last week on the Easter long weekend did concerns about the notices reach social media. The signs, posted on the doors of the well-used facility, note “a number of recent troubling incidents.”
“Dear Community Members — A number of recent troubling incidents in and around the Rideau Heights Community Centre has [sic] resulted in the City of Kingston having to take some temporary steps to control access to the facility,” the notice begins.
“For the next while, only those who are part of scheduled programs and services can be inside. Please know we have connected with local authorities and are doing everything possible to return to normal operations,” it continues.
“The City deeply regrets the impact as [sic] we recognize these actions have on the many valued families and individuals who use the centre on a regular basis.”
Of course, Kingston residents were eager to know what these “troubling incidents” were. But it is what happened after those incidents that tells a more fulsome story of the importance of the Community Centre — and, more so, the efforts of those who run it to truly make a positive impact on the Rideau Heights area.
Initially, the City of Kingston provided the following statement from the Recreational Services Department regarding the matter:
“About a month ago we had some incidents involving youth and some concerning behavior[.] [B]ecause it’s with police and involves youth we can’t divulge specific details. However, following these incidents, for the safety of all of our patrons, the youth involved, staff and everyone who visits Rideau Height Community Centre, we restricted access to the centre to those who have a specific purpose to be there such as participating in a program. To address the issues we worked with the youths and their families through various community services and the Kingston Police and have had no further incidents since March break. We are in the process of revisiting the ongoing needs for these types of interventions.”
The statement went on, “We recognize that Rideau Heights Community Centre is a vital and crucial community space in Rideau Heights and therefore it remained open to the public throughout, with no interruption to programs and services. Rideau Heights continues to deliver free, diverse and inclusive programming from a variety of community partners.”
For their part, Kingston Police initially redirected Kingstonist to the operators of the Rideau Heights Community Centre for comment. However, pushed for information on specific incidents that have occurred at the address, Constable Anthony Colangeli, Acting Media Relations Officer for Kingston Police, offered a few details on an incident that occurred on Friday, Mar. 10, 2023 – which coincides with the notices being posted at the Community Centre shortly thereafter.
On that date just after 5 p.m., Kingston Police were called to the centre because of a youth who was seen with an inoperable (broken) pellet gun, Colangeli said.
“This was investigated and addressed with the youth, who was referred to the Youth Diversion Intersections Program by our YCJA (Youth Criminal Justice Act) Co-ordinator,” he said.
After gathering the above information, Kingstonist sat down with Amy Gibson, Manager of Recreational Services for the City of Kingston, for what proved to be a very transparent, frank, and enlightening interview.
First, Gibson agreed with the sentiments often expressed by police that carrying a concealed weapon of any sort – including air pistols, pellet guns, or BB guns – is not acceptable, and dangerous not only for those around the carrier, but also for the person with the weapon. All of these weapons resemble actual firearms and can cause injury.
But with any issues involving youth, there is often an underlying issue that needs addressing, Gibson said. For that reason, her team chose to work with police to ensure the youth using the weapon at the Centre was addressed through Youth Diversion, rather than being charged with an offence.
That youth required intervention, not detention, said Gibson, and has since made a remarkable turnaround. Another youth who had engaged in troubling activity earlier in March was also connected with the appropriate services, she said; that youth has since returned the programming they had been regularly attending beforehand.
“Really, what we’ve learned is… behind all of this, there’s always those underlying root causes,” said Gibson, who disclosed she spent 25 years working in youth services before moving to her current position with the City of Kingston.
As Gibson sees it, if she was the parent of a four-year-old who attends programming at the Community Centre, she’d want to know her child was safe. And if she was the parent of a vulnerable 11-year-old attending the centre who was engaging in at-risk behaviour, she’d want to know those working there would support that child as well. At the same time, she felt the Rideau Heights Community Centre had to address the issues that were occurring there and send a clear message that such behaviour wasn’t welcome – not that the children themselves weren’t welcome.
“We’re seeing children and youth who are struggling to be there. It’s not about them not being there, it’s about us making sure that our partners are connecting with them to provide those supports and services,” she explained. “So that everybody has a purpose, and everybody is welcome.”
Gibson said that, like the many other youths who attend the Rideau Heights Community Centre, those exhibiting troubling behaviour have been regular attendees of perhaps the most-needed service the facility offers: the meal program. Every day, approximately 40 children and youth attend the Community Centre for meals. The programs offered through a number of the partnering service providers at the Community Centre that focus on cooking, gardening, and basically addressing food insecurity are completely full and in high demand. At Christmastime, the holiday meal centre offered free of charge saw over 90 children fed alongside their families.
“Children are coming to our ‘Work Hard, Eat Well’ program, and they’re taking food home to their families,” she said, detailing that food insecurity is more prevalent now in the community surrounding the Rideau Heights Community Centre than it’s ever been.
But what is also prevalent and unchanged is the sense of community: something so powerful it can truly help to shape lives in a positive way.
“The space alone has become a huge, significant community,” Gibson said of the Community Centre, “so much so that, when I walk through there, people look at me like ‘Who is this person?’”
She laughed happily at how those who frequent the community centre all seem to know one another. This speaks to the goal of the facility, which has been to continue to grow and incorporate more of the programming and services that make it the vibrant, diverse community hub it already is.
“Because it’s all of those things working together that really make a community centre a community,” said Gibson.
For his part, City Councillor Brandon Tozzo echoed the importance the Rideau Heights Community Centre has in his district, Kingscourt-Rideau.
“I am extremely proud of the services the City and community partners offer in the Rideau Heights Community Centre. It is a community hub that is used by all ages,” he said. “Rideau Heights is a fantastic neighbourhood, and I’m honoured to represent it on City Council.”
As for the rumours about the Community Centre that have been floating around, Tozzo underscored Gibson’s assertion that the facility remains open and welcoming to all. They suspect the reason people may have thought the notices meant the centre was closed to the public was that they attended the centre on the Friday and Monday statutory holidays that flanked the weekend of Easter, Passover, and Ramadan celebrations.
“There was a post going around social media about the centre limiting access, but I can assure everyone that the RHCC remains open to the public whether they need a place to meet, participate in sports, or grab a meal,” said Tozzo.
The Rideau Heights Community Centre exemplifies the old adage “It takes a village to raise a child,” working to meet the needs and demands of those in the community, particularly the younger members. But it couldn’t be done without the partnering service providers that deliver the programming to make that possible.
“It takes villages,” said Gibson, referring to the many service providers the come together to make Rideau Heights Community Centre the well-loved hub that it is.
“And we welcome all members of the public to be part of that, whether that means finding the services needed to get life back on track, or taking a load off and relaxing in a chair while charging a phone.”
More information on the Rideau Heights Community Centre – which boasts its own library, skate park, and community kitchen – as well as the programming offered there is available through the City of Kingston website.