For most people, the years of adolescence and early adulthood are trying times. From dealing with the pressures of school and family, to managing growing independence, these years are often among the most transformative, but also the most challenging.
For Catherine Broomfield, executive director at iHuman Youth Society, these years are the ones that matter most. Broomfield and the team at iHuman spend each day helping vulnerable, marginalized youth aged 12-24 engage and reintegrate with the greater Edmonton community through arts-based programming.
Whether offering studio space for sculpting, painting and performance art, or encouraging dialogue about graffiti as an art form, the iHuman team works to help youth harness their creative energy to drive positive social change.
When Broomfield joined iHuman in 2010, she was excited about the potential of this young and growing organization. At that point, iHuman was just entering its own teenage years and it looked like change was on the horizon. Since 1997, the organization had inhabited more than half a dozen different rented spaces around the city, but growing demand for iHuman’s services meant a more permanent, stable location was needed.
“When we were renting a space, or when we, as an organization, were homeless, we couldn’t provide security to our youth. We didn’t have space or resources for them, so ultimately we were compromising their potential,” she says. “And that’s hard on the kids, it’s hard on the staff; it’s hard on everyone. It’s not an enviable position to have to turn young people away, or to have them lose trust in us just because we didn’t have a permanent space.”
Something needed to change. Broomfield, along with the iHuman board of directors, set sights on purchasing a property so that the organization could provide uninterrupted support to as many young people as possible. They found a former restaurant supply warehouse just a few blocks from the location they were renting. The new building would offer 22,000 square feet of space, more than double what they occupied at the time. And building ownership would mean they could offer consistent, dependable support to youth in need.
Of course, there was a catch. The building would require extensive renovations before they could move in. They launched a capital campaign, seeking to raise more than $15.5 million for an extreme makeover of the space. In time, they secured support from individual donors, businesses and government partners. Everything was shaping up, until the price of oil dropped.
“We weren’t counting on any major economic changes. When the price of oil fell, some of our donor pledges and agreements with vendors and suppliers fell through,” says Broomfield. Yet in the face of this financial uncertainty, she remained determined. “We had the support of the community, so we knew we had to make it happen.”
With plans for the building already in development, iHuman approached the Social Enterprise Fund (SEF). This new facility could revolutionize both the services they offered and the number of youth they served. But without additional financing, this long-held dream might not become a reality.
“We had grants and agreements already in line, so we looked to do a modern-day barn raising,” says Broomfield. “We still had some of Edmonton’s largest construction companies on board to help us with the work. But we needed SEF to help us with the last piece of financing.”
It didn’t take much from SEF to make the dream of property ownership a reality for iHuman. Just $250,000 was enough to fill the gap and ensure their modern-day barn could be raised. In the spring of 2014, construction crews began work and iHuman’s future began to take shape.
Four years later, Broomfield is amazed at the transformation she’s witnessed. iHuman’s two-storey facility, located just east of Edmonton’s downtown core, serves anywhere from 60 to 150 youth each day. In addition to space for arts-based programming, it offers laundry and shower facilities, a mental health clinic and crisis outreach supports.
“The last few years have offered a lot of learning for us, as an organization, we’ve grown so much,” says Broomfield. Although this growth has been an eye-opening experience, it hasn’t been without its own challenges. From dealing with a flooded building to managing property break-ins, the iHuman team has learned to take these growing pains in stride. It’s these kinds of challenges and opportunities, she notes, that wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the community and SEF.
“The project wouldn’t have come together without SEF’s support,” says Broomfield. “SEF understood what it meant for us to be a non-profit, and knew how important it was for us to have this space to serve the community.”
And maybe the best news of all? iHuman has joined SEF’s “Paid-in-Full” club, not just paying off its loan, but doing so early. That means the organization can move into the future concentrating on the most important thing, namely its mission to transform young lives.
Entrepreneurs, and in particular social entrepreneurs are usually moving pretty fast.