iHuman: A Welcoming Place for Young People
A Boyle Street agency called iHuman, 9635 – 102A Avenue, is doing wonderful things for marginalized and vulnerable youth aged 12 to 24. Young people feel welcome at this drop-in centre. They are invited to explore a wide range of artistic pursuits while also learning more about the resources available to them – for example, linkages to housing workers, support with addictions, and mental and physical health care.
This non-profit organization founded in 1997 has three focal points: creativity, caring, and authenticity (“Be who you are.”). Their work is supported by a variety of sources such as the Edmonton Community Foundation.
The centre serves approximately 500 Edmonton youth, and currently around 85 percent of the participants are Indigenous.
Christopher Weiss, community engagement manager, says, “I love this job.” He says iHuman has a “strong reputation” and that many of their youth find them via word of mouth.
This reporter was recently treated to a tour of the art studios, which are equipped with items such as computers for digital music, sewing machines, and art supplies. Weiss says, “There is a reason why there are no chairs in the hallways. The studios are for engagement.”
The tour included a large devastated section of the building. Last winter, the extreme weather caused broken pipes and a major flood that destroyed a significant portion of the lower floor. “Disasters are expensive,” Weiss says, noting that for this and other reasons donations to the iHuman Youth Society are much needed.
When youth require social support, the centre refers them to other agencies. But it will offer lockers, showers, and laundry facilities when renovations are completed. In keeping with Weiss’ observation that “all youth deserve care,” there are housing workers, counsellors, and nurses on site.
The centre includes a “Family Room” because many of the female participants are single parents who bring their babies and small children with them. The parents’ space is not a daycare, Weiss points out, but it offers support in the form of a kitchen and childcare items as well as parenting classes and connections to Indigenous culture. “The Family Room is always in need of diapers, formula, and grocery gift cards,” Weiss says.
To help with the flood recovery and/or parenting program, contact Christopher Weiss: firstname.lastname@example.org, (780) 977-6757.
The artistic focus at iHuman
The idea for iHuman first came up over 20 years ago when two artists working on public art pieces in central Edmonton connected with several inner city youths who were showing an interest in their work. The artists invited the young people to help them, and as they say, “the rest is history.” It seemed clear to the organizers that artistic and creative activities could provide marginalized youth with excellent opportunities for positive personal development.
At iHuman today, the programs on offer include sculpting, painting, drawing, print-making, performance art, music, drama and fashion. A number of the activities go beyond the walls of the building and involve connections with the broader community. For example, many of the wall murals in the neighbourhood have been done by young people from iHuman — through the Edmonton Arts Council in consultation with the City of Edmonton.
As well, young people from iHuman are regularly involved with NextFest, an annual performance festival featuring young artists. This year, iHuman also presented a play at the Fringe.
A partnership with Interstellar Rodeo, a music festival in its seventh year in Edmonton, developed in the summer of 2018. Festival producer Shauna de Cartier decided the event should be more diverse and inclusive, and therefore have a significant Indigenous component. iHuman’s Jesse Jams and the Flams and Jayden performed on their stage. iHuman also had a crafts tent on the site and an area featuring breakdancing demos.
On the day that Boyle McCauley News visited, two young men, both 21, were composing a song in the digital music studio. One was from Clareview and the other from Mill Woods. They obviously found it worth their while to make the trek to Boyle Street to pursue this project under the guidance of Enoch Attey, iHuman’s music coordinator.
Anita Jenkins is a retired writer and editor who lives in Boyle Street.