Youth Nights give kids a chance to ‘just be themselves’

By Amanda Duncombe-Lee

The school gym at Archie Stouffer Elementary School in Minden is a flurry of activities and laughter every Monday night. On average, about 60-70 youth from Grades 5 to 8 attend a free youth program created by Minden OPP Officer Robin Carmount, where they can play games of their choice, socialize, listen to music, and leave their worries behind.

“It’s a night where kids just do what they want. It’s unstructured. I have a bin of stuff they can use. There’s floor hockey, dodgeball … They just run around for an hour and a half. Over the past couple of years basketball has turned into a big thing,” said Carmount.

The winner of this year’s Haliburton Highlands Chamber of Commerce Highlander of Year award, Carmount first started the local youth program back in 2015. “I was coaching Stanhope soccer at the time, my kids were kind of that age, and there was nothing in the community for kids to do. I had run a similar program up north [in White River] before coming here, at the elementary school,” he said.

Five years ago, the program expanded to Wilberforce.  It runs every Thursday night at Lloyd Watson Memorial Centre with an average of about 25 to 30 kids from Grades 4 to 8 attending. 

The program receives funding from the Kin Club of Minden and Rotary Club of Minden, in-kind support from the schools, and volunteer support from the OPP Auxiliary and community volunteers. Carmount welcomes donations from the community to help support the program. High school students needing volunteer hours are also welcome to volunteer.

Youth attending give an optional donation of one dollar and then help decide as a group where to donate the collected funds. Carmount said that since the program first started in Minden, approximately $4,000 has been raised that goes directly back to local charities and families in need. Recipients have included the school breakfast program, flood relief, daycares, hospitals, housing organizations and animal shelters. 

Jackie Smith has spent two years volunteering with the program. “It’s had a huge impact on the kids. It’s a spot where they can just be themselves,” she said. “There are structured rules, but no agenda … it’s just, come together with all the friends that make you feel like a kid again, even the adults.”

“It’s important because it’s a night to have a sheltered environment without an attached bill or invoice,” said Smith. “There’s so much stuff out there that’s available for kids, but there are barriers in transportation, funding, etc. Everything comes with a cost. We seem to forget that’s why there’s not that buy-in, because parents are afraid to say, this is too much for me.”

Several summers ago, Carmount also started a free summer sailing program, the Haliburton County Youth Sailing Association, for local youth. The community-driven program is supported by donations, and runs through the Red Umbrella Inn in Minden, and from Highlands East Mayor Dave Burton’s dock in Wilberforce.  Carmount is looking for more volunteers to support the popular program.

“We’re in the confidence building business,” said Carmount.  “It’s not always about the sailing. You have kids show up, they’re afraid or nervous, and then after doing it … they start having fun and aren’t nervous anymore. Just to put this in their toolbox, and by the end of the year, they have their bronze certificate for sailing, is such a cool thing. They all love it.”

“Robin never gives up,” said Smith. “He always has a smile on his face … it’s that attitude and due diligence that really pulls it through. He always thinks, ‘How can I give back, and just let the kids be kids.’ I’m honoured to be part of it.”

Carmount’s newest project is building a roadside bookstore out of a donated 32-foot wooden boat in Carnarvon as a fundraiser for the youth nights and sailing club. He hopes it will be ready by summer.

For more information about the youth nights or sailing program, or if you would like to donate or volunteer, email Robin at