By Mike Renzella
The Haldimand Press
DUNNVILLE — Shaking a bad rep can be hard. Just ask David Tunikaitis, the new Executive Director of Dunnville Youth Impact Centre (DYIC), who found himself faced with unstructured programming at the centre that led to kids hanging out in the alley irritating townsfolk instead of being engaged in programming that fit the criteria of the centre’s motto, ‘Equipping youth for life’s journey’.
“Every Wednesday night when I first started, there was a drop-in night where youth could come and hang out, but what we found was because it was unstructured … they would end up in the alleyway beside the centre and engage in inappropriate behaviour,” said Tunikaitis. “There was some drug use there, there was fighting, they were really belligerent to some of the people…. That bothered me because I take our mission statement seriously.”
To address the issue of unsupervised youth around the centre, Tunikaitis brought in more structured programs, a retired teacher and EA to offer academic assistance to students who felt left behind after the pandemic, a master chef to teach up to eight students an eight-week-long food skills course, and an apprenticeship through a partnership with Dunnville Auto Pros, which will see two apprentices work with auto mechanics to give them a start in the profession.
Other upcoming opportunities include intramural basketball and volleyball at Dunnville Secondary School and a certified fitness instructor will offer classes teaching breathing exercises and mindfulness to address anxiety: “The instructor works specifically with teenage girls, helping them in three areas: self-confidence, self-esteem, and self-image.”
He added, “What we are focusing on right now is helping people with their academic health or their physical health or their mental health. These past two years have had a devastating effect on some of these kids.”
He said the centre is working at its best when it is providing kids options, “so they can break out of a cycle and just set their life in a positive direction.”
“I try to touch base with teachers or principals to find out which kids just need that little break in life…. If they give me a name, I will then connect them to one of these programs so we can invest in them and help equip them for life’s journey,” said Tunikaitis.
He gave some recent examples of the work being done through the centre, mentioning the centre’s free tutoring program: “We got a response from one of the parents asking if we could help her seven-year-old, because he had told his mom he ‘doesn’t see a future for himself because he can’t read’. We connected him with the EA, who worked with him for about six weeks. I remember after that, he came into the centre one day with a medal on that he had from school – for reading.”
In another case, a young man approached staff at a summer event since he couldn’t read and “was discouraged because he couldn’t get his driver’s licence because he couldn’t write the G1 test.” Tunikaitis reached out to Service Ontario and learned they offer an oral exam for people with disabilities. Along with relaying that info to the young man, the centre offered to help him for an hour a week going through the Driver’s Handbook, and then helped him to book his G1 test once he felt ready.
“He was absolutely blown away,” said Tunikaitis. “For a young adult who doesn’t know where to turn because he doesn’t know how to read, that’s kind of what we do. We try to find solutions that maybe they may not be able to find on their own.”
He also shed a light on the centre’s recent backpack program, which gifted a fully stocked backpack to many local children to help them prepare for school, with many of those children also paying a visit to the centre’s on-site clothing closet to pick out an outfit for the first day back.
“It’s to give them a little bit of self-confidence,” said Tunikaitis. “They feel good about how they look, they have their stuff in their backpack, they’re fully equipped.”
He elaborated on the upcoming culinary classes, which will teach food prep, knife handling, kitchen safety, and more, culminating in the students taking their Food Handling Certification test.
He also believes the centre can act as a bridge between the community and critical services they need in times of distress. He noted the car accident in early August that claimed the lives of two young adults in Dunnville.
“We got a call from a woman asking if there was anything we could do in terms of grief counselling for people that might be struggling with how to deal with this,” he explained. “I was able to connect with OPP Victim Services, and they were able to come in on a Wednesday night. We opened up the centre, served refreshments, and invited anyone in the community that needed someone to talk to about what they’re going through.”
He summed up the exciting opportunities being offered as, “See a need, fill a need.”
Tunikaitis thanked the various people and organizations that contribute to the effort, including a recent donation from the Mayor’s Charity Gala event, saying this help is the “only way we’re able to do the things we do.”
All programming options, including fitness classes and drop-in volleyball and basketball, start this October. To inquire about availability, contact them by phone at 905-774-6233 or by email at