The Wetaskiwin and District Heritage Museum is empowering youths to embrace their own potential and fall in love with history through the museum’s Youth Network, which was launched last fall.
The Youth Network brings participants behind the scenes of the museum’s operations, into decision making roles with the goals of adding a positive youth culture to the museum.
“We weren’t bringing in youth between the ages of 12 and 19,” said Megan Patterson, museum assistant and programs co-ordinator.
“Teenagers, they’re so important. That’s when you start gaining passions. That’s when you start developing,” added Karen Aberle, executive director and chief curator.
After some brainstorming the Youth Network was born to get get the younger generation more involved in the museum beyond a visitors role.
Patterson says as a child she was given ample opportunities to learn about committees, fundraising and the function of a board. The Youth Network program will work to teach the participants about those same principles.
“The museum, it’s what you see, but it’s actually the smallest part of what we do,” said Aberle.
With four participants at present, Patterson and Aberle knew of a couple youths they felt would jump at the chance to be a part of the program. “They were already passionate and within our doors and wanted to have a role beyond our school tours.”
The Youth Network is in the midst of designing and directing the creation of an exhibit for the museum, centering on the strange laws of Wetaskiwin.
Kenita Crier is one of the program’s youth and feels research has been her favourite aspect of the project. She is also excited by the idea of visitors to the museum seeing the hard work her and her young board members put into the exhibit.
Each of the four board members are bringing their own flare to the exhibit. Crier is blending her idea of costume design to represent laws and their time periods with Jacob Striker’s fascination with the strange laws.
Patterson says she’s already seeing growth in the youth as the grow into their roles. “I would say I do see a lot of confidence in them. Confidence in that they know what they are doing.”
However, Cherish Ermineskin knows when a member of the program needs assistance in their roles or finding material for the exhibit it is okay to ask for help. “There’s some things you just can’t find. The strange laws in Wetaskiwin, it was hard to find websites.”
“I’m really proud of the way they’re coming together,” said Aberle. “They have proven they have their own initiative. They’re their own leaders.”
Esther Hoogland enjoys being a part of the Youth Network because of the influence she can have in bringing other youth to the museum, and fill a role normally associated with adults.
“I think what I like most about working as a team is I get to interact with other kids my age interested in the same things,” said Hoogland.
“What I like about being part of the Youth Network is I get to help out around the museum. I like learning about the history of the city I live in. I just like seeing everything in the museum,” Striker added.
His interest in the museum and the laws of Wetaskiwin pre-dates his involvement in the program but he’s taking delight in bringing those interests to the public via the exhibit. “It makes me feel good because if they like it, that will make me feel good. And if they don’t like it I’ll still like it because I put a lot of hard work into it.”
Patterson says the exhibit will be temporary because she would like the idea to become an annual project for the program.
The exhibit will be geared toward families and everyone will be welcome to visit, but the stories of Wetaskiwin will come from that youth perspective, says Patterson. “This allows them to explore a whole new outlet, a whole new world in which they can take ownership and be independent.”
Aberle says the museum exists for the community and would not exist without the community. “I can’t be the community’s voice if the community doesn’t give me one and this is the perfect voice, our youth.”
The Wetaskiwin and District Heritage Museum Youth Network is open to youths living in the city and county of Wetaskiwin and Maskwacis, between the ages of 12 and 18.
Those looking for more information on the program can contact the museum at 780-352-0227 or firstname.lastname@example.org.