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Head & Hands celebrates four decades
Article mis en ligne le jeudi 2 décembre 2010
Photo Anja Karadeglija
Marlo Turner Richie poses with some of the other staff at Head & Hands

On Nov. 20, Head & Hands, an NDG organization that offers legal, medical, and social services to youth, held a fundraising gala to mark its 40th anniversary.

The evening raised around $13,500 for the centre, which is the oldest youth organization of its type in Canada.

“It was just a riot and people were so happy to see each other and re-connect –people who had worked together in the 70s, 80s and 90s,” said executive director Marlo Turner Ritchie.

Since its founding in 1970, Head & Hands has dealt with challenges ranging from financial troubles to fire and flood.

“Throughout the whole 70s, there were staff who were working for weeks and weeks without being paid, just for the sake of keeping things going,” said Turner Ritchie.

When the centre opened, there was a real need for its services, she said. Those services are aimed at youth from 12 to 25.

“In the 1970s, it was hard if you wanted to find out about contraception… and yet there was a lot of sexual experimentation going on. Some people call it the era of sex, drugs, and rock and roll, right? So it was a really exciting time in the neighbourhood,” explained Turner Ritchie. “There was a need for the English-speaking community in particular to have empowering, non-judgmental health and social services.”

Turner Ritchie said that at the time, “NDG was already a hotbed of organizing. We have had the NDG Community Council for 75 years, so there were already people ready to jump in and support this,” she said.
They fledgling organization didn’t turn anyone away, even servicing Vietnam war-dodgers.

The organization has added services since, like its Young Parents Program and an after-school drop-in centre for teens. Turner Ritchie said that it tries to meet youth where they’re at.

“On the one hand, we’re doing abortion accompaniments… on the other, we offer a young parents’ program,” she noted.

Head & Hands’ philosophy has sometimes conflicted with other approaches out there – like “Just Say No,” which was developed in the 80s.

“[Just Say No] was just damaging. I really applaud the people who were involved in Head & Hands during that time…a lot of people just felt that youth should just not have sex, and let’s not even talk to them about sex, because they’ll just have more of it. And that’s ridiculous – we know that approach doesn’t work,” said Turner Ritchie.

“Our alumni figured that out right away and said ‘look, our job isn’t to tell you what to do and what not to do’ – it’s to empower them to make informed decisions.”

The organization doesn’t agree with the zero-tolerance approach, and instead focuses on harm reduction. It describes itself as “sex-positive”, and has also had strong stances on issues like homophobia and racism.

“Our approach isn’t always perceived as ‘the right way’… We’ve been edgy and radical since 1970, and we’re still pushing the envelope with youth in our community,” said Turner Ritchie. “If we don’t do it, who will?”

[Anja Karadeglija]

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