What started as an idea to create a local teen drop-in in 1992 has evolved into a multi-faceted organization to serve the vast needs of youth and families in the Cochrane area.

A free carnival-themed celebration is being held for the 30th anniversary of BGC Cochrane & Area at its 5th Ave. location this Saturday. It runs from 3 to 7 p.m. 

They'll be plenty on the go, including face painting, inflatable horse racing, a petting zoo, ice cream, cotton candy, temporary tattoos, games, and a free BBQ

Indigenous dancers and drummers will help open the celebration, and later on, some of the people involved with the club over the years will be sharing their stories.

Cochrane Now will also be broadcasting live from the celebration.

At 8 p.m., the popular 1992 family film Beethoven will be shown on a giant outdoor screen behind the clubhouse.

How it all started

Key to the creation of the Cochrane Youth Association in 1992 were Gaydon Willis and Susan Flowers.

"Gaydon and I were talking a lot about how we needed a place for the kids to socialize and they were looking for a hang-out place," recalls Flowers. "A lot of the youth were out raising money, and Gaydon and I put together the nonprofit association and got others involved."

As time went on it, became difficult to sustain.

"Over the years, it became harder to raise money just for a hang-out place. It was apparent they needed more programming and more structure, so we got it connected to the Boys and Girls Club (Now known as BGC)

The club's first location was in the mall on 1st Ave., then moved into the 2nd Ave. building where the Family Resource Network is currently located. The owner didn't think it was a good fit and they briefly moved into the Provincial Building.

That all changed when Tim Davidson coordinated the construction of a building on 5th Ave. on the Cochrane Lions Rodeo Grounds.

"I'm a builder, and I couldn't see us moving around on the whims of people," says Davidson, "By having our own place, we could do what we wanted."

He recalls how fundraising was proving challenging and people stepped up.

"There were several trades that did work at no expense. We were trying to raise money and weren't having much success. When we started to get going, I'd bring people on and I was surprised when they said they wouldn't give us a bill. In the end, it came in well under budget."

Flowers said they carried a $75,000 mortgage that was quickly paid off.

Both Flowers and Davidson give credit to Mayor Lydia Graham for being a staunch supporter and helping secure the location to make it all possible.

Davidson went on to briefly chair the club. He said it was a natural transition from working with youth at his church. 

Davidson is well known for constructing houses and centres in third-world countries, like Honduras, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Nicaragua. Over the years, he has made 40 to 50 trips.

One year, he brought about 14 youth from BGC to Tijuana, Mexico.

"We didn't build a house that week, but we worked at the orphanage, did some remodeling and painting, and let the kids hang out with the kids at the orphanage."

"It was kind of cool to see a change in their lives," he recalls. "They were kids who were struggling. It was an overall good experience, and I'm sure the kids will remember it."

An interesting spin-off from building the 5th Avenue clubhouse was how it became instrumental in getting an international project off the ground.

While constructing the BGC clubhouse, a videotape was made of Lydia Graham talking about the experience. It was taken to show to the mayor of a Honduras community.

"I don't think we got through the whole video and the mayor jumped up and said I want to show you where the property is and took us to the outskirts of town to a two-acre drop dead property. He said you can have this if you build it."

Funding was secured through the Wild Rose Foundation, then the federal government to make it possible. That youth centre exists to this day.

Nola Hume has been with BGC for five years, first as the youth program coordinator and now as manager of youth programs.

Her connection to the club dates back to when it was first established as a drop-in centre when she was a grade 11 student at Cochrane High. Her mom was Gaydon Willis.

Back then, Cochrane had a population of about 5,200. There wasn't a movie theatre, none of the current major restaurant franchises, and nowhere for youth to gather.

"A few community members, including my mom and Susan Flowers, started the first Cochrane Youth Association. It was just a little club where we could hang out, play games, and just be with our friends in the evening. It was great because there was nothing like that at all in our little town at the time."

She says back then she would never have envisioned returning to be part of a much-expanded youth organization.

"It's really full circle for me. I was recently in meetings and such in Cochrane High. I was looking around and thinking to myself, if someone would have told me I'd be doing this in 2022, I would have just laughed. But here I am, and I'm just loving it."

She's proud of how BGC has continued to provide youth programs and supports for teens and expanded to include successful out-of-school care, and a day home agency.

"We've grown along with the community, and we've been serving children and youth and families that entire time. The needs have diversified throughout the years, and so have we. Our team has grown along with the community, too, so it's a really big celebration of how we've supported the community, but also how the community has supported us."

BGC clubhouseThe BGC clubhouse in 5th Ave. is a hub for many youth activities and services.
The ClubThe Club teen drop-in centre is also operated by BGC and is located in a strip mall on 5th Ave. behind McDonald's.