Education, youth jobs/sports trade are healthy issues Forum action plans for the do-able By Chris Woodall Giving Whistler's youth part-time summer jobs they can exchange for sports passes, and increasing awareness of facilities and programs, are do-able solutions to make this resort community a better place to live. The fourth Whistler Healthy Communities Forum of focus groups, Tuesday, Feb. 24, at Whistler Secondary Community Centre, came to these and other conclusions with the emphasis on figuring what can be done, not on "pie-in-the-sky" projects. There's even a deadline. "We want action plans and targets that can be enacted by June 30," says forum facilitator Bernie Lalor-Morton. The group of 33 that participated Tuesday were divided into five sections: mental health, youth & children, child care, housing, and education. Three previous forums over the past three years have attracted 40-60 people each time. Chat is cheap, which is why going for what can be done has resulted in a community representative on the Whistler Valley Housing Society board, greater inter-agency co-operation and the poop ’n scoop bylaw. Looking at Whistler in general, it has a good employment rate compared to the rest of the province, says municipal planner Kim Needham. "It used to be that people came here to go on U.I. and ski. The rate is better than the provincial average now." More Whistler couples find they both need to work to make ends meet, with 95 per cent of husband and wife teams working, compared to 82 per cent in the rest of B.C., Needham says. But there are more entrepreneurs here, with 10 per cent of Whistler workers self-employed compared to about 7 per cent in B.C. As for housing, Needham says a "lofty goal" is that 66 per cent of people who work here should be able to live here, too. "If they aren't living here, they won't know where things are and that has an effect on tourists who ask for directions," Needham says, noting that Aspen employees often have to commute two hours a day to and from work. It doesn't help that housing costs here are 16 per cent higher than in the Lower Mainland, Needham says. When Simon Hudson was hired last year as youth programmer, he had a clean slate to work with. But with everything starting from scratch, there was a learning curve and accompanying frustrations in getting activities going to attract youth. "The biggest problem is that there are phenomenal opportunities for kids, but they aren't taking advantage of them," Hudson says, of the essentially high school-aged group. It is easier to get younger youths involved in activities such as Finally Fridays or intramural sports. "It's really hard to get 17-18-year-olds to do activities," Hudson has learned. He's gradually gaining ground. Adventures Anonymous organizes outdoor trips on the scale of ice climbing and avalanche awareness training. He's helped high school students take control of their sports groups by setting up a Whistler Storm Athletics Association. And by keeping out "school officials," he had a successful drug and alcohol awareness seminar where youth could talk freely about the issues that affect them or their peers. Here's some of the ideas generated by this week’s forum: o Mental Health Whistlerites want a balanced lifestyle and to be able to deal with the stresses of life, says group spokesperson Paula Campbell. To get that, they need to know there's affordable counselling available. To that end, there seems to be a lack of mental health education. Getting materials and information into peer discussions, existing health programs and company or community newsletters or bulletin boards will help make people aware of what's available to them. The family unit can use some tools to help survive the pressures of this community, including a family enrichment video, or setting up a babysitting co-op. o Youth "There are all kinds of things youth can do in this community, but they can cost a fortune," says group spokesperson Nancy Routley. To get around that barrier, a volunteer work plan that rewards the youth participant with a golf, ski or tennis pass in return for a certain number of hours worked on the golf course, ski mountain or tennis facility may do the trick. Not just a make-work project, the jobs should be something the golf course, etc., need done. By putting in, say, 40 hours, over the summer, youth have the weather and longer daylight time to put in those hours to earn their season's or 10-day sports pass. The group would also like to see a wider version of that program that pays off in sports passes of longer duration. The total number of volunteer hours required would include spending some of those hours at community facilities, such as the food bank, so youth gain a wider appreciation of what Whistler is about while they earn their ski or golf pass. "There are good mentoring possibilities for youth as they work alongside adults," says Mayor Hugh O'Reilly, who sat in on this group. "We don't have the complex number of volunteer things a city has, such as a hospital candy striper program, but this kind of program should do that," O'Reilly says. An important part of this kind of program is that it be very public and not something open to "insiders" only. o Child Care Whistler has a "crisis" in child care, says group spokesperson Dan Greene. Having good affordable facilities is the essence of a healthy community. "If we're going to have a balanced community we need affordable child care," Greene says. Opposite to Whistler's one organized and licensed child care facility is "quite a lot of unlicensed care where there is no monitoring of the level of care and a lot of under the table pay," Greene says. Licensed care isn't just a bureaucratic intrusion, but makes for safer child care. Child care education could come from a Capilano College-run local program. The biggest task ahead is to build a second facility, governed by the current facility, that is located where it'll have the best use. "We need local community and government support for this," Greene says. But it doesn't have to be a massive project. Indeed, several small day care facilities — perhaps handling a dozen children each — may be easier to implement and handle. Just increasing the number of recreational programs for the youngest of Whistler's children would go a long way to providing a sort of day care, Greene says. o Housing The group sees a need to re-emphasize the need for rental and purchasable one- and two-bedroom accommodations, says group leader Kirby Brown. Part of that is to educate the public about the effects — and to debunk the myths — of affordable rental housing projects when it comes to what kind of housing and in whose back yard. Whistler should look at employee or rental accommodation as an intermediate step to getting people to commit to living in Whistler year-round, not as a quick-fix for seasonal workers. o Employment People will be more keen to make Whistler their permanent address if they can look forward to year-round positions that offer a comfortable standard of living, says Chantal Smitheram, speaking for her group. "Sure, many people come here for a few months, but many find that they want to stay here," Smitheram says. Two ways to develop a stronger full-time workforce are to hold a summertime job fare so employees leaving one season's employer can discover who's hiring for the summer season; and to encourage cross-employment strategies between summer and winter employers. It might be beneficial for both employers and employees, for example, if a golf course worker knows he or she can move directly into a similar job with Whistler/Blackcomb instead of dealing with the stress of having to start from scratch in an October job hunt. And the community should find ways to help employees upgrade their skills.