Focus on Youth

Egbert Gaye

Thirty-six years after it was founded by Norma Husbands and Margaret Jolly, two mothers looking for organized activities for their children, the West Island Black Community Association (WIBCA) stands today as a hub of community life with an extended slate of programs to enhance the lives of students, adults and seniors in the area.
Along the way WIBCA has been nurtured and sustained by an illustrious group of Montrealers who volunteer time and talent to help the association acquire a building and maintain a binding connection with the community it serves.
Kemba Mitchell, a forward-looking young professional who recently took the reigns of leadership at WIBCA, says she is mindful of the contributions of those ahead of her and is excited about the opportunity to build on the foundation that’s in place.
“My intention is not to reinvent the wheel, but to do what I can to position WIBCA for the future,” says the 42-year-old who works as an international logistics coordinator at TRU Simulation+Training Canada Inc. “And I’m hoping to use technology as much as I can to help us get there.”
She says she has already helped to develop an App to facilitate easy communication among the newly installed executive members of the association, many of whom are comfortable with the use of new technology, and with the membership.
It’s all part of shifting the culture within the association to continue to serve the adults and seniors, while trying to recruit and accommodate a new crop of young members.
As chairperson of the association, Mitchell says one of her immediate goals is to raise the $40,000 or $50,000 to refurbish the top floor of the building that the association owns on 4th Street in Roxboro and establish a drop-in centre for youth.
“Ultimately, the goal is to engage young people and get them involved in the association,” she says. “But I understand how difficult it is to get their attention.”
“One thing I know is we have to find non-traditional ways to deal with them because they don’t want to come to a centre and feel as if they’re in a classroom.”
Mitchell says she has a soft spot for working with young people because her initial involvement with WIBCA about nine years ago was as a youth worker when she organized a program for a group of teenagers. Its success lingers with her up to today. She also has two daughters, one 22 and the other 19.
So she is confident that she has what it takes to get the attention of the youth.
“I speak their language,” she asserts.
But she’s quick to admit that getting them involved might be the easy part. “It’s far more difficult,” she says, “to have them understand the concept of volunteering, because it’s not a practice that’s entrenched in our young people as it is in other communities.”
It’s up to us, she says, to get them to see the benefits of volunteering… “It’s a win-win situation and an effective way of networking.”
My goal is to convince them that they all have skills that can be useful to the community. “And if they can donate just one day a month it’s a positive step.”
Mitchell is excited about the new board of directors she will be working with, especially having a young and enthusiastic executive member, Keeslyn Abellard, taking on the position of Youth Mentoring coordinator.
The way forward now, she says, “is to build on the work that was done in the past. And a big part of it is to find additional sources of revenue for the association to continue to deliver its services to the community.”
She is grateful to the West Island Blues Festival for its annual donation, which has gone a long way in paying off the association’s headquarters and for its repairs and maintenance.
Over the past 14 years, festival organizers have donated close to $100,000 to WIBCA. Mitchell says it’s up to them now to add to that.
“Unlike many other organizations, we own our building, so now it’s up to us to figure out how to use it to generate some more revenue. So we’ll be looking into that.”
Mitchell is also looking for ways to boost the profile of the organization.
“We have to make WIBCA a household name in the West Island by spreading the word on the various services the association offers: tutorial, legal clinic, activities for seniors and a dynamic youth program.”
As she positions herself to help the association move forward, Mitchell, who was nominated for the post by Errol Johnson, has the complete support of her board and the membership.
Fay Johnson, a longstanding member and coordinator of WIBCA’s membership drive, is particularly excited about having what she describes as a young and dynamic leader on board.
“She has the full support of each and every past president of the association and they are all rooting for her to help take WIBCA to the next level.”
For more info. on WIBCA and the services they offer, check out:
Call 514 (683-3925 Fax: (514) 683-7649 Email: