After 20 years of heading Sanctuary Pre-Teen Centre in downtown Trail, Ken Potter has much to reflect on before he retires in a few days.
Less families are on social assistance, he says, and more are now the working poor.
Working poor refers to those who cannot find a job that pays a living wage, which is said to be about $18.25 an hour in the Lower Columbia.
Whatever the household takes in dollar-wise isn’t important at Sanctuary, however.
And that’s the one constant that will carry on when the free after-school care program starts up this fall with a new coordinator and 40+ kids.
“We’re always open to all families since we don’t want any of our children negatively labeled,” Potter said. “Labeling goes against our core value of being non-judgmental,” he emphasized.
“That’s the ‘judge not’ community we have here. This has been the whole point of my being here to let children experience this place where they can’t even put themselves down – let alone others. And even the big people get a ‘heads-ups’ when they forget.”
Potter shared one particular memory that gets to the heart of what Sanctuary is all about.
“I remember standing in the short hallway with all of the children behind me while a child threw everything he could at me until his mother could arrive,” Potter recalled.
“I remember because when he turned 13, he became the best junior volunteer I’ve ever had.”
Potter is now managing care for a second generation of Sanctuary children – some of his former kids now have their own offspring who come to the centre. He says his greatest hope is for Sanctuary to continue running as a unique non-judgmental place and that children carry those inclusive values into their adult lives.
“This has been a really fun ‘calling’ for the last 20 years,” Potter told the Times. “I say calling because the pay isn’t great and the hours are terrible, so it’s certainly not just a job. But being with all of the hundreds of children who’ve come through here while they struggle, and then (mostly) come to love this non-judgmental community life, has been an incredible privilege. I just want to say thank you to the board and the community for letting me do this.”
Sadly, for the first time in two decades, the centre will close for the summer.
Since 1998, the non-profit Generation to Generation Society has kept Sanctuary afloat during the school year and summer months through donations and grants.
The care is free for children ages eight to 12 years, and includes a snack and hot meal.
“Unfortunately, this is the first time in 20 years that, financially, we can’t keep it open over the summer,” said the society’s Barbara Gibson.
“We depend completely – apart from our recycle fundraising – on grants and donations in order to keep the doors open, and as you know there’s huge competition for donation dollars,” she added.
“Our attendance does drop during the summer, so that’s how we were able to justify the closing. There are families affected unfortunately, but there is nothing we could do about it.”
When Sanctuary does re-open this fall, Leanne DeBiasio is ready to take on the role of program coordinator.
“My plan is to continue the operating values and strategies that make Sanctuary the special place that it is,” DeBiasio said. “The core of what we provide and how we behave with the kids and families will not change. Like Ken, I believe in the judgment-free community at Sanctuary where everyone is welcome.”
The community is invited to an open house for Potter on Wednesday, June 27, from 4-7 p.m.
“Anyone is welcome to attend and wish Ken a happy retirement,” said Gibson. “And it will also be a chance for people to meet Leanne DeBiasio, our new coordinator.”
A fundraising venture for Sanctuary, called Alley Bash 2.0, is currently underway.
The event will go September 15, and includes an evening of food, fun and an act straight from Las Vegas called Dueling Pianos.
Check the Trail Times later this summer for more details.