The red building that stands adjacent to Spirit Square and has been vacant since 2009 will soon get new life, thanks to local social programming organizations ASK Wellness Merritt and Interior Community Services Merritt.
Representatives of ASK Wellness said the building will serve as a hub for social programs, including mental health services, and will also be the location of the Fireside Centre, Merritt’s new teen centre, on Thursday and Friday evenings.
“Our hope with this is, with a number of organizations struggling to find a place to do their services, that this becomes a hub for social organizations to be able to work out of,” ASK Wellness Executive Director Bob Hughes said. “While it needs a great deal of work, I think its proximity to Spirit Square and the downtown has some huge potential to provide a significant contribution to the social fabric of the community.”
The groups plan to install a full kitchen, set up computers, and even knock the wall dividing the front and back half of the building down to open it up. Hughes said the estimated launch date for the new location is May 15. Until then, ASK Wellness is asking for donations, specifically of kitchen wares such as cutlery, dishes and containers, as well as recruiting for volunteers.
Interior Community Services, which established a Merritt branch earlier this month by taking over the Merritt Youth and Family Resources Society’s program contracts, is partnering with ASK Wellness Merritt on the project. Hughes said the fate of the old teen centre at 1721 Coldwater Ave. is now out of the two groups’ hands.
“From speaking with other community members, with the other teen centre, it was always the location that wasn’t well-utilized,” ASK Wellness Merritt Director Bobbi Parkes said. “Location is key. Having it right downtown, in the core, and in this beautiful space, I think it will draw people here.”
Hughes said he is aware that some Merrittonians may be skeptical of Kamloops organizations such as ASK Wellness and Interior Community Services coming to town to offer services.
“It’s a legitimately sensitive issue,” Hughes said. “You don’t want people from outer space coming in and doing work on this planet, you want people actually from this community doing the work and that’s something we have committed to since the get-go. Everybody who works for ASK, in the last five or six years since we’ve been here, is from Merritt. If they’re not from Merritt, they move to Merritt as a result of their employment here.”
Interior Community Services has its own Merritt office at 2172 Coutlee Ave.
Exact programs for the Fireside Centre are still to be determined, ASK Wellness’ Teen Centre Coordinator Stacy Wormell said, adding that it will be open on Thursdays and Fridays from 3:30 to 7:30 p.m. to provide youths between 13 and 18 years-old with a safe place to hang out, support programs, and education programs.
City of Merritt Leisure Services Manager Larry Plotnikoff said the city expects leasing the building to the groups will have a revitalizing effect on Spirit Square.