A Place for Us has been an initiative slowly gathering steam in the downtown core of North Bay.
It is quite simply a place where youth primarily 13-30 can take part in positive arts experiences which will also teach leadership skills, school success, job readiness, and community involvement through non-threatening visual, performing, and culinary arts.
The vision has been to renovate the old Gulliver’s Bookstore and turn it into a youth-based centre.
The initiative was started by Gateway To the Arts, an artist’s co-operative, which happens to occupy the store next door with gallery and workshop space. Started during the summer months, plans to open and operate the new space have been chugging along behind the scenes with a GoFundMe fundraiser and many grant applications as well as a few fundraisers in the works.
We realized, in operating Gateway To the Arts, there was a large need for youth-centered art opportunities in the city whether a working artist or someone who just likes to dabble. There are music teachers looking for space, art instructors wanting to run workshops, and people who genuinely want to be involved with young people in the city. But there are not a lot of community spaces to run these programs,
In December 2021, the drive to create the new centre took on a new focus for me and my business partner Dani-Lynn Redgrift-Berthelot a photographer from Sudbury. On December 4, 2021, during a vendor market which was a fundraiser for the new centre my nephew was killed in a brutal murder not two blocks from the proposed location.
Nicholas Nicholls was 27 years old at the time of his death. He had battled addictions most of his teens and adult life despite the efforts of his family to get the help he needed.
What people don’t realize is that there was a person behind the addiction. Nicholas was a lively little boy who could wrap you around your finger with one smile, but his huge heart and hard-working nature got lost behind the wall of addiction and likely mental health. He was for all intents and purposes a little boy lost in a world he could not escape from, but he was loved, and I do not believe he wanted to be in that world just like most who are stuck there. But there really is a lack of services and with addictions and mental health or simply with social issues facing marginalized youth services cannot be a one size fits all approach.
The morning of the stabbing his grandmother had dropped him off at the local safe-bed program and the question will always remain for the family as to whether this would have been the attempt that would have worked. Would Nicholas have turned his life around had he not met his murderers that morning? His family admits they will never know the answer to that question. But they do want some good to come from his death.
I still have days where I want him to walk in front of my store just so I know he is okay but, I know that will never happen. I know Nicholas is gone. We opted to donate his organs before we knew he had signed a donor card himself, but that is who he was. He loved his daughter and his family and most of all we must believe he would want us to create this space to help other youth who may feel like they have nowhere else to go. Youth who just need to fit somewhere and need to have someone recognize their worth. With a lot of people who turn to this lifestyle there are personal demons events they may not understand.
In memory of Nicholas, in consultation with the family, we have decided to rename ‘A Place For Us’ to ‘Nick’s Place For Us.’ The hope is to begin renovations in the spring while maintaining some of the history and aesthetics of the old bookstore at 157 Main St. West. Nick’s Place For Us is incorporated as a Not-For-Profit business and in keeping with the history of the old store which for years provided educational games and books and supported local writers and artists the owners feel strongly it should keep on giving to the downtown and the community.
The renovations will include redoing the main floor into a multipurpose space featuring reconfigurable spaces for visual and performing arts and workshops, upgrades to the storefront including windows, doors, and facade, adding a main floor washroom, office and industrial kitchen facilities as well as a backdoor, and upgrades to the basement making it usable space as well as all electrical and HVAC upgrades needed.
The centre will work with local organizations and artists to provide programming, local health organizations, and educational facilities as well as employing youth interns to provide on-the-job training and experience. They are currently developing their board of directors and connections to support in the health fields who can help to set up relevant programming.
We are awaiting approval on several grants and running a number of fundraisers in the coming months including an online auction of two Valentine’s Day Experience Packages valued at over $600 which can be found here.
In addition to these fundraisers, we will be seeking sponsorships from local and national businesses with a vested interest in the vision or a desire to have a positive impact on the lives of youth.
In the coming weeks and months, we will be adding more information, fundraisers, speaking to the public and organizations as well as laying out our capital campaign. As I am sure people can understand our family needed time to process and grieve as well as come to grips with what has happened.
I know my nephew made mistakes in life and I know many carried huge repercussions, however, no one deserves to die this way, and if we can help just one youth to not head down that path before they do then the centre will be worth it. I invite anyone affected by something similar who wants to help make a difference to contact us.
In the end, the only way we can make a difference is to work together to evoke change to our current climate.
Editor's note: Karrie Emms, co-owner of Gateway To the Arts and the new A Place For Us.