Kearley is the new executive director of the Vine Place Community Centre, while Hann is a co-chair of the new board that is heading up the facility that replaced the WestRock Community Centre earlier this year.
WestRock was ousted from the building at the end of March, with nearly a dozen people losing their jobs. The centre was taken over by the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation after the Crown agency decided to terminate its contractual relationship with WestRock.
Those associated with WestRock packed up most of the centre’s furniture, computers and other items and moved to a new location.
Funding for staffing and most programs left along with those material assets as contracts for sourced funding were still under the WestRock name.
In the early days of the takeover, a transitional board comprised of three housing corporation administrators managed Vine Place. In June, Kearley was hired as the new executive director and a new volunteer board was elected, including Hann as a representative of the community-at-large and fellow co-chair Varrick Hammond representing the housing tenants.
In addition to Kearley, two program co-ordinators were hired in the summer. Since Labour Day, Vine Place’s staff grew to five and now includes a community employment facilitator and a poverty reduction facilitator.
Vine Place gets its core funding from the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation, as do other community centres across the province. Kearley said the process has begun to apply to various other funding sources to expand Vine Place’s staff, programming and material assets.
While finding money and the right suppliers at the right price is a challenge, Kearley said the staff and new board are hoping the centre will eventually be new and improved.
“The way we’re looking at it is it’s a great opportunity for the community to shape what they want here,” he said.
This summer, Vine Place offered youth housing tenants in the Corner Brook area a series of camps with weekly themes such as art, sports and cooking.
Programs are currently on hiatus until the start of the Homework Haven afterschool program later this month. Plans are also in the works to soon start a seniors program and an employment preparation program.
The hope is to also expand programming to include satellite sites at other housing neighbourhoods like those in the Hendon Drive, Farmdale Road and Carter Avenue areas.
The approach to revive the centre will also include holding focus groups at the centre and other events designed to get tenants to come forward with their visions of what the centre should offer.
“We shouldn’t be dictating to them what they want,” said Kearley. “They need to tell us what they want.”
Hann decided to come onboard with Vine Place because it fit with his experience as a volunteer with various youth programs. Some of that work included offering his time to some programs at WestRock, but he said he never experienced the tension that led to WestRock’s shutdown and doesn’t think there is any need for any animosity to carry over.
“We’re new and starting fresh,” he said. “We want to do what we can to develop this place and programs, starting over from scratch. We aren’t really concerned with what went on before.”
In the meantime, the fate of WestRock has turned out for the worse. The centre moved into the former Crestview Medical Clinic just down the street in April, but has since closed.
No one from the WestRock board of directors would comment on the situation. The board is in the process of winding down its operations.