December 4, 2021 is a day downtown business owner Karrie Emms, her family and her staff will never forget.
They had no idea when the police barricades went up how drastically their lives were about to change. Emms’ nephew, Nicholas Adam Kenneth Nicholls, had been fatally wounded in a stabbing just two blocks away from her business and a youth arts centre she was working to create.
"The last five months have been a blur for the family but, we are determined to have some good come out of the tragedy," says Emms..
The youth centre Emms and her business partner Dani Lynn Redgrift-Berthelot were working hard to bring to fruition has been renamed Nick’s Place For Us.
"We will work to prevent other youth from getting lost in the background noise and its first program will run early this summer," she adds.
While the building renovations won’t be complete, the program seems like a fitting step forward for Emms.
“Nicholas was a man who had some issues, he made poor choices and yet the one thing that keeps coming out from his friends and professionals who interacted with him was how big a heart he had. He was a giving person who was lost in a world of addiction and this program carries on the giving. I am proud to be able to offer it as the first program we run,” said Emms.
In early February Emms was approached by Mark Wilson, co-owner of Toronto-based design company Envision, who has close family ties to North Bay. Wilson had an idea to reuse technology his firm deemed obsolete for their purposes by resetting and refurbishing laptops, loading them with pertinent programs, and donating them through a scholarship program.
This aligned so well with the mission of both Nick’s Place For Us and Gateway To the Arts that Emms and Redgrift-Berthelot jumped at the opportunity to create and facilitate the program.
The first year of the program will see 25 laptops refurbished, loaded with selected software, and distributed to local emerging artists, One student from each North Bay high school moving on to post-secondary studies in the arts or a related field will get a laptop. People under the age of 30 who are identified as deserving based on community involvement and/or financial need by community members (through a private nomination process) will receive one.
Youth aging out of local services who could benefit from a laptop for school or work endeavors will also be eligible.
The goal is to meet some community needs and forge positive connections and relationships as well as fulfill a real need among youth just beginning their journeys.
“Over the last decade, there has been a marked increase in the number of homeless in northern Ontario," said Wilson. "With this comes a marked increase in the number of addiction issues and overdoses and an increased crime rate. Add into these factors a global pandemic and we begin to see a multitude of issues emerge. Many of these issues take root in the early teen and young adult years making this segment of the population the most vulnerable and the most in need of outreach in positive and meaningful ways prior to the development of lasting and prolonged issues.”
Each recipient will be required to complete two to three, 90-minute computer training sessions taught by industry experts to qualify to receive a laptop. Sessions will run at Nick's Place For Us. during the first two weeks of July with the possibility of furnishing additional classes for interested participants.
"Laptops will be awarded at the completion of training sessions at no cost to the participants. The training is more than a requirement for getting a free laptop, it is also about building relationships with positive role models and building resources to fall back on in the future and even to approach for advice or information," explains Emms.
“Nicholas could have benefitted from a youth centre like the one we are trying to build. We are in fundraising mode currently and have just hired a youth intern who will work with me to accomplish that goal. The goal of both is to provide education and learning through the arts because it is a non-threatening medium,” said Emms.
“Eventually we plan to have culinary, visual, literary, and performing arts all housed in one centre. We can always focus on the negative aspects of a person's life or the things that seem impossible to do but, hopefully this program is the first step to inspiring positivity and strength in our youth.”
This program is supported by Techify, Cooper Equipment Rentals and the program creator Mark Wilson, of Envision.
To nominate a youth and for more information click here.