2023 Annual Report
Maya’s toes curled up inside her shoes as she watched backstage with nervous excitement as Quite Like This, a band comprised of high school students, stepped out on stage for the first time in their young lives. She exhaled deeply as the first chord was strummed and the crowd cheered. A year of planning led to this exhilarating moment.
Seventeen years ago, CityFest began as an event to celebrate marginalized youth (typically, skateboard kids) who, at the time, were often thought of as simply troublemakers and petty criminals. The City of North Vancouver had just invested a surprising $500,000 in the Centennial Skatepark—something the community desperately needed and had asked for. Youth Unlimited’s Mark Koop, and North Shore Alliance youth pastor, Dave Sattler, wanted to celebrate that important milestone. So Mark ran a skateboard competition while the church hosted a
|free BBQ. Three hundred youth showed up. After three more successful years, the City suggested a partnership and live performances. Further local partnerships formed and suddenly, CityFest was born.
What’s most remarkable about this event, however, is that it’s not just for youth, it’s by youth. With mentorship from committed and caring adults like Youth Unlimited’s Andrew Chong, high school students are empowered to not just perform at the event, but to create, lead and execute in the year-long planning. They voluntarily accept significant responsibility and commitment to make this event happen.
| “They run the whole thing,” says Andrew, who’s worked as CityFest event director for the past three years. “The adults are there for support, but the youth make almost every decision and make it happen. It’s a remarkable learning opportunity for a wide variety of youth.”
Maya, a key person on the performing arts committee, is in her second year on the CityFest leadership team. Mentored by Andrew, the Grade 12 student has been developing her leadership and planning skills.
“”It feels so good to give amateurs a place to perform,” says Maya, who cheers them on with the crowd. “It’s usually their first time on stage; CityFest gives them confidence to keep growing.”
Andrew explains that the public event is just a fraction of what CityFest really is. “It’s youth workers and youth spending an entire year together,” he says. “Sharing a vision, lifting each other up, overcoming fears, and accomplishing something they didn’t think they could.”
“Sometimes, CityFest looks like a cold Wednesday evening, with me and three youth at Brazza Gelato, four laptops, 100 to-dos, and lots of jokes in-between. Other times, it looks like 10 youth staying late after City Hall committee meetings, brainstorming together. No adult told them to stay. For some reason, they want to be part of this more than they want to be at home watching Netflix.”
Stage director, Arley, now at Capilano University has also has seen how Andrew’s mentorship with CityFest has helped him grow. “I’ll ask Andrew for the answer, and he’ll say, ‘whatever you think’. At first it was frustrating, but my confidence in my decisions grew because of it.”
“Our investment with these youth goes far beyond a festival,” explains Andrew. “For Maya, for example, it’s meant cheering her on at her performances, bringing her out on a Sunday morning to play in my church band, and being a university reference. Through it all, Maya and I have ongoing conversations about relationships, family, school stress, the future, inner struggles, and whatever else comes up. CityFest is just one more way that Youth Unlimited can come alongside youth and meet them where they’re at.”
A mix of nerves and great pride came over me as 10-year-old Bradley walked down the Council Chamber steps and up to the podium with 150 concerned North Vancouver adults staring him down. The Mayor and City Councillors waited for this scruffy skateboard kid to adjust the mic to his level. Sitting in the front row, I whispered to Bradley, “You’ve got this.” He leaned forward into the mic and said abruptly, “We just need a skatepark!” It was a simple plea from a brave lad who just wanted a place to skate without getting hassled by the police and people on the streets.
The city of North Vancouver already gave the go-ahead to build a state of the art skateboard park but in the public hearing process crowds of adults would show up yelling, “Not in my backyard.” The fear was that a new skatepark would attract “punks” and result in an increase in criminal activity throughout the city. As an advocate for skateboard youth, I continued to unite them at City Hall meetings to articulate their need for a safe place to skateboard.
Bradley was one of 30+ skateboard kids who were falling through the cracks in our community. North Vancouver skaters were getting into trouble at home, school and in public spaces where they would gather. Together with some volunteers and the support of North Shore Alliance Church, Youth Unlimited started a Skate Club, to provide mentorship, support and a community where they were celebrated and belonged. We gathered weekly to skateboard in the church parking lot, eat snacks and share thoughts about the world’s most counter-cultural figure, Jesus. Our celebration of skate youth and skate culture led to the creation of CityFest, the largest youth festival in the province of BC, which you’ll read about in this issue.
This is one example of what we do: we celebrate and advocate for marginalized youth. And when we do this, our youth begin to see their value and worth, and they start to open their lives to things that will help them to flourish.
One year later, we cut the ribbon to a brand new, beautiful skatepark. Once again, I was overcome with pride as Bradley and friends finally had a place of their own to do what they love.
Speak up for the people who have no voice, for the rights of all the down-and-outers. Speak out for justice! Stand up for the poor and destitute! – Proverbs 31: 8—9
Thank you for advocating with us,
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