Brett Wilson was back in his hometown North Battleford on Wednesday, sharing news with Battlefords Chamber of Commerce members and business leaders of his initiatives and efforts in the Battlefords.
He was the star attraction at Chamber on Tap at Porta Bella restaurant, put on by the chamber. Wilson spoke at length about various philanthropic efforts he is currently involved with in the community, which are collectively known as “the Battlefords Initiative.”
One of those efforts in the process of development in the Battlefords is Planet Youth. Planet Youth is an approach launched in Iceland a couple of decades ago to address high levels of drug and alcohol abuse among Iceland’s youth.
Since then, it has seen tremendous success in reducing addictions rates. Wilson told the audience that rates of addiction had approached 50 per cent of teens in Iceland, and that Planet Youth has taken that number down to five percent.
“The biggest part of Planet Youth is the program develops family,” said Wilson. “If you can keep kids engaged, you keep the gangs away, you keep the family intact and you grow, really, the sense of community and pride in the community that is the future … Planet Youth is about investing in the next generation.”
Planet Youth is just one of the efforts Wilson is involved with in the Battlefords. He also spoke of his other initiatives at the local level. Some are where Wilson has made a long-term financial commitment of five to ten years. Others were floated as possibilities Wilson wanted to pursue in the future.
• Outward Bound, described as “experiential learning” where people gain experiences in the outdoors. Wilson is himself a graduate of the program and he told the audience that he’s expanded his scholarships to the program dramatically, sending two groups of 24 kids each from the three local Battlefords high schools to Canmore, Alta. Shortly after his Chamber on Tap presentation, Wilson headed off to meet and speak to many of those Outward Bound graduates about their experiences.
• The Hoffman Process, a personal development protocol described at their website as a “week-long retreat of transformation and development for people who feel stuck in one or more important areas of their life,” which Wilson is also lending backing to.
• Allocating top-up grants to every classroom in the Battlefords designed to help kids at the entry level, something Wilson is committed to doing over several years.
• Efforts at enhancing access to artists and musicians to encourage them to come to the Battlefords.
• Putting up a landmark on the top of King Hill that would get visitors’ attention.
• Putting up iconic pieces of art at “every intersection of the Battlefords” that would reflect the history of the Battlefords. “Whether it’s influenced by a group of business people or influenced by a group of First Nations leaders, I don’t care. There’s room for doing something fairly interesting in terms of art, in terms of music.”
“I’m going to make these commitments because I believe in the Battlefords,” said Wilson. “It is my roots, I have a sense of pride in it, and I want it to be better.”
Wilson also made the pitch to those in the audience that community involvement was vital, and that he needed local people to pitch in.
“I do need ambassadors, I do need believers in what we’re doing,” said Wilson.
Planet Youth has quickly attracted the attention of local leaders interested in addressing addictions issues that are seen as root causes of criminal activity in the area.
A delegation from the Battlefords including community safety co-ordinator Herb Sutton, Light of Christ Director of Education Cory Rideout, and Living Sky School Division superintendant Nancy Schultz, attended a Planet Youth conference in Iceland in the spring.
Sutton said his involvement came about because Wilson was looking for local representatives to go to that conference to learn about Planet Youth and see whether there was potential for it in the region.
Now, plans are in the works to formally launch Planet Youth in the Battlefords.
A steering committee has been struck and it was revealed that Jay Notay, president and CEO of North West College, has agreed to take on the chairmanship of it.
Both Notay and Sutton spoke at the event, with Sutton’s remarks focusing on Planet Youth. He said Planet Youth’s approach is now being applied around the world, including in countries such as Ireland, Chile and Australia.
With Planet Youth, Sutton noted the emphasis was on prevention, instead of on impacts after the fact. In particular, the effort was directed towards changing the environment young people face, one where they are surrounded by drugs and alcohol.
“Their friends are all using it, their parents are all using it, it’s everywhere,” Sutton said.
“It was a real eye opener for the people in Iceland to realize, yes, we're actually asking our young people to defy the odds. We're telling them it isn't good for them, but we're allowing them to grow up in an environment where it's not only acceptable but even promoted. And so we have to change that. It changes it at the family level, but it also changes it at the community level. That’s what this approach is about – it’s changing the environment that young people grow up in so that they are able to make better decisions for themselves.”
This story has been updated as the launch date for Planet Youth is not yet firmed up.