Haliburton Youth Wellness Hub steering committee member Joey Varga told an audience she has first-hand knowledge of why youth services in Haliburton needed to change.

Helping develop and get funding for the hub became part of the 19-year-old’s healing journey, she said. After her family went through a challenging process in the health care system, she lost her 19-year-old brother Morgan Kessler to suicide in 2017.

“We felt we needed to do something that would make a difference in the system,” Varga said. “Morgan needed something like this. The youth everywhere needed something like this. And I’m thankful to be able to say I have been involved in making it happen. As a team, the youth in the community together with our allies have begun to create a legacy. We are making a difference.”

The Haliburton Youth and Wellness Hub celebrated its official opening Feb. 6. Dozens of people toured the centre on Dysart Avenue, which offers youth recreation and a variety of walk-in health services.

The hub has been running for several months as construction on its basement and accessibility features continued, which Point in Time executive director Marg Cox said were completed two months ago. The location is aimed at ages 12-25 and acts as both a social gathering space and centre for services for mental health, addictions and counselling. It also features social supports, helping youth with employment, income and housing.

The hub was developed at the former site of the Lighthouse Pentecostal Church by a wide-range of organizational partners. It was part of a series of 10 such hubs built throughout Ontario and was funded in large part through a provincial three-year grant worth $975,000.

Deputy Premier and Minister of Health Christine Elliott was on hand for the opening. She said addressing mental health and addiction services is a priority for the provincial government. She also announced that provincial funding for the hub would continue in perpetuity.

“There’s no end date. This is a valuable resource in this community that’s obviously, quite clearly needed,” Elliott said. “There’s been so much community involvement in this.”

“With the creation of the youth hub, we as a community are saying we care,” Dysart et al Mayor Andrea Roberts said. “My hope for the youth hub is it gives teens a place to laugh, to share, to play music, to eat food, dance. But most importantly, to feel connected, supported and loved.”

Cox said now that a foundation of services is in place, organizers would take steps to add more to the hub.

“It is such a joy to have Haliburton youth have the kind of services they deserve and to see such a community effort pull together to make it happen,” she said.

Talitha Varga, Joey and Morgan’s mother, told the audience she can imagine her son would have used the youth hub and made connections there.

“I see a home for youth. A place for them to just be. To be heard, seen, supported and loved,” she said. “It is too late for Morgan, but I believe this youth hub will save lives.”

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