“We are strengthening communities with you.”
It’s very difficult to sum up 20 years of serving such a broad cross-section of Lower Columbia communities. But in those six words, the Kootenay Housewives found a way to belt out what the Skills Centre has being doing since 1997 – “strengthening community” through innovative programs and creative initiatives.
The Kootenay Housewives paid musical tribute to the Skills Centre’s 20th anniversary during a charming get-together in the Local 480 Hall Wednesday night – staff and guests reminisced about the past two decades, honoured those who came along for the ride, and looked ahead to a bright future that includes a new leader and a $20,000 commitment to youth.
Board president Lila Cresswell announced the new “Youth in Community Bursary,” whereby the Skills Centre will award two $1,000 bursaries over the next 10 years. Two graduating students will be the recipients – one from JL Crowe Secondary School and the other from Kootenay Columbia Learning Centre.
“As the Skills Centre celebrates its 20th year serving the community, the board and staff decided it was important to mark this milestone by establishing a legacy that invests in the region’s future,” Cresswell said. “… over the past 20 years we have developed programs and services that have contributed to the development of people and our labour market,” she added.
“Looking forward, we are excited to announce a legacy that contributes to our community by investing in our youth. With our commitment to the promotion of living wage employment and poverty reduction, this bursary will be awarded to individuals who have contributed in some way to their community and whose family income is at, or below, the living wage for our region.”
Longtime executive director Janet (Jan) Morton is retiring this year.
Morton took a few moments to reflect on first days at the Skills Centre, the struggles and triumphs along the way, and she closed by introducing the organization’s new executive director, Morag Carter.
“When the Skills Centre funding was announced in this building by Ed Conroy back in 1996,” Morton began. “It’s hard to imagine that I would be standing here in this room celebrating a vibrant, strong organization that’s contributed in so many ways to our community and to our region.”
The Skills Centre in Trail was the last of 20 Skills Centres to be named by the province that year, funding was announced through a joint federal and provincial strategic initiative.
Notably, the Trail site is one of only three Skills Centre still open.
“You might ask ‘Why that is the case?’” Morton said. “As it turns out, although we are certainly appreciative of the funding that came to us, beneath the promising idea we found some interesting challenges.”
As operational funding diminished over five years, demands on Skill Centre services kept climbing.
“We were mandated to provide state-of-the-art distributive learning, relevant to a re-structuring rural economy,” Morton explained. “Of course, this was 1996-1997 when the on-ramp to high speed internet and the quality of online learning was but a distant dream.”
So how did the Trail-based Skills Centre survive?
“We did what we do best in this part of the world,” Morton said. “We got together, we talked, we argued and talked and argued some more. And then we got creative and we got to work.”
In a three-way partnership between the Skills Centre, then-newly amalgamated School District 20, and Selkirk College, the organization has been a stronghold in a laundry-list of services ranging from continuing education and the college’s multi-media program, job search and skills training for youth and a suite of employment counselling services. Skills Centre staff took on community initiatives like Rivers Day, the Teck Learning and Wellness Program, affordable housing projects, poverty reduction and they began a mentorship program for women in non-traditional employment.
“At the core of our success is the enduring belief that social and economic development have to go hand-in-hand,” Morton said. “(And a) commitment to work collaboratively with others, leading when we needed to lead, supporting when it was best to support … and in the early days, fighting to make payroll – and never taking ‘no’ for an answer.”
In 2007 the Skills Centre was registered as a charitable organization. The centre serves Trail, Rossland, Warfield, Fruitvale, Montrose, and district Areas A and B – the seven communities are collectively named the Lower Columbia region.
During the 20th celebration, the Trail Times caught up with incoming Executive Director, Morag Carter.
Accepting the job meant Carter and her husband had to move from ocean to mountain and valley – the couple relocated to Trail from the Village of Sointula in the Northern Gulf Islands.
“One of the things that attracted me most to come to Trail and the Skills Centre, are the values the Skills Centre has as part of its foundation … ” said Carter.
“I am really looking forward to working with the people at the Skills Centre … looking at the programs and projects they’ve got on board, and to building the future,” she added.
“So really, my goal is to build on the exceptional legacy that Jan has left us.”