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Lights back on at East Three
Record number of children turn up for popular evening program

Sarah Ladik
Northern News Services
Thursday, October 8, 2015

More than 100 students, past and present, turned out to the first Lights On evening of the year last weekend at East Three Secondary School, more than any other night in the program's history.

NNSL photo/graphic

Chrissy Hvatum, top left, Paul O'Connor, Kieran Ritias, bottom left, and Braeden Picek hang out at the first Lights On session of the season. Attendance Oct. 3 broke records, finishing with 110 students. - Sarah Ladik/NNSL photo

"We started in 2011 and the first night we had 24 people," said executive director Alexie Winchester. "Every year, we have younger kids wanting to come and it's great; we get to watch the kids kind of grow up."

Lights On was conceived as a program to help keep young people out of trouble on Saturday evenings during the school year. It's open from 7 to 10 p.m. every weekend for anyone in Grade 7 through 12. The only rule is that they have to come in sober.

While sessions average between 75 and 85 children, Saturday's session broke the record with 110 in attendance.

"It's all free for the kids," said Winchester, who teaches art at the school during the day.

"We'll provide you with food, activities, you just have to show up clean and sober."

On Saturday, activities included cosmetology, Arctic Games, and a multitude of sports in the gym, along with baking in the kitchen. While programs geared towards large age-ranges similar to Lights On can sometimes have problems attracting and entertaining opposing ends of that spectrum, Winchester said she had never experienced any divide in her tenure. She credits the program leads with that success.

"Every year I hire two senior students," she said. "They plan, co-ordinate and run all the gym activities, they respect each other, and they're working with their peers. Having students working in the gym, it's part of their job to make sure the Grade 7s are getting pulled in. It's a real community."

Every year, Winchester said she gets applications from many students for those two positions, with even more coming to her asking when they will be eligible to apply.

"It's fun, and you get to see everybody," said Chrissy Hvatum, a student who has been coming to Lights On for years.

Her sentiment was echoed by Kieran Ritias, who said he liked the sports best, as well as getting to see all of his friends.

But for all the popularity of the program amongst its target audience, Winchester said it still isn't that well known. In an effort to get the community more involved, she said several groups will be coming in throughout the year to run activities and present their services.

"Groups like the Inuvik Justice Committee, the RCMP, the IRC, it gets the wider community more involved, she said.

"All the kids know who we are, but for some reason, even though we've been here for five years, people in the community don't really know about it."

While its stated mandate is to give young people a safe and fun alternative to potentially getting into trouble, there are no statistics Winchester is aware of pointing toward its effectiveness.

"I wish I knew," she said.

"But I can tell you that 100 kids are choosing to be here on a Saturday night instead of making a different choice."

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