Sage Martin & the Cookie Crew

Sage Martin, 13, was bored sitting at home. Seeing this, his Nana encouraged him to bake cookies as a treat for for his own family. 

An entrepreneurial spirit gave him the vision of marketing the cookies to local businesses but his problem was having the space to bake on a larger scale.

When Launch Pad, Hanover’s Youth Activity and Technology Centre opened in 2015 with a commercial kitchen, Sage took his energy and cookie-making enterprise to the next level, creating his own custom cookie business.

“I have to pay for all the ingredients and rent for the kitchen,” says Sage as he cleans up from making peanut butter cookies. “I’m saving up now to buy a bigger mixer.”

Sage’s entrepreneurial vision and growing success is exactly what Launch Pad is designed to foster says Executive Director, Emily Morrison. 

“My dream is that employers will look to Launchpad as a pipeline for their work force,” says Morrison, who is just five-months into her new role at Launch Pad after working as a Marketing Coordinator with the County of Huron.

Program Assistant, Seth Veenstra, who has been paid staff since January 2016, says it begins with allowing youth to explore what they are interested in.

“Youth are curious about different things,” says Seth. “We want to give them an opportunity to try something and take a risk.”

“Yes,” agrees Emily. “In a safe environment where they can express their creativity and curiousity.”

Launch Pad has a drop-in centre for youth aged 12 to 18 which is open from 3:30 to 8:00 p.m.  Here, kids can play games, socialize and work on computers. On top of that, structured programs are offered in eight-week sessions teaching technological skills from qualified, volunteer instructors. In these classes, which require a minimal payment to ensure commitment, youth can learn cooking, woodworking, computer technology and welding. The welding class is particularly impressive. The Launch Pad building was a former car dealership and one of the offices was  outfitted as a full-fledged welding shop. Students have already made two welding tables amongst other projects.

The welding shop and kitchen have a connection. Much of the equipment in the kitchen was donated by Hobbart, a kitchen appliance manufacturing company. Turns out they needed a welder for the summer. So they turned to Launch Pad asking for a student. The student took an aptitude test based on skills learned at Launch Pad, passed, and was hired! Emily was thrilled. It’s a goal met.

Launchpad also offers lifeskill classes on such topics as “Moving Away Survival Skills”, “Emergency Service” and lighter choices as “Build a Derby Car”. They have sewing classes and a garage band for music skills.

Launch Pad differs from other youth centres in that it focuses on rural economic development.

“We were modelled after Fusion in Ingersoll and are funded by Hanover’s Economic Development rather than by Parks and Recreation where youth centres traditionally get their funding,” explained Emily.

When it started, Hanover, like other small communities, was losing its youth to larger centres. Drug use was also a concern and the town chose a proactive approach with a youth centre that would teach social skills as well has hard skills and trades.

“We package the workshops as after school sessions in the spring, fall and winter,” explained Seth. “In the summer there are still activities but they aren’t packaged as workshops.”

However, this summer Launch Pad has embarked on a new opportunity at the Eat Well Market in Hanover. It all started with the band.

“When we started the garage band, we wanted an end goal. That goal was to be good enough to play at the farmers’ market,” explains Seth. Market organizers wanted a more inter-generational vibe to their market so asked band members if anyone had micro-businesses and would like to sell product at the market.

Sage, with his cookie business was in! Emily had strawberries from the family business in Lucknow so the kids made jam to sell. Plus, Launch Pad has an official partnership with MacLeans Ales Inc., in Hanover to market a barbecue sauce.

“It was a bit of a hodge podge but we took the plunge,” admits Seth, who is an idea-person. Soon, the kids were experimenting with cold-brew coffee and another launched a t-shirt line. Much was learned.

“Kids need to see Point A and Point B but they don’t like being told how to get there,” says Seth. Structure, scheduling, budgetting and making product that people want to buy are all skills the kids are learning from this latest entrepreneurial venture.

“They are taking risks but not risks that will hurt them,” says Seth.

Ideas abound. One thing that hinders attendance and program advancement is transportation issues. Local youth can walk/bike or get a parent to drive them to the centre but Launch Pad also services youth from Walkerton, Durham, Chesley and Neustadt.

Emily was excited to get funding from the Saugeen Economic Development Corporation to pay the cost of taxi service for youth. Uptake has been slow as some parents adapt to the idea but Emily sees it as an ideal solution to get more youth to the centre.

Currently, the centre teaches from 45-55 youth a night during workshop season. Up to 10 programs run per session.

Launch Pad has had great uptake but there are still people who don’t see the value of the centre. Visibility might be part of it. The centre opens at 3:30 p.m. so during the day, it looks empty and unused. By later afternoon, the place can be buzzing.

Emily is hoping to combat that by encouraging daytime usage. For instance, a local meal service rents the kitchen during the day to prepare food. 

Ultimately, the goal is to create positive youth engagement.

“It’s said that youth are the largest export out of rural Ontario,” says Emily. “If we can create positive youth to adult connections and create a positive environment, then, when they are ready to put down roots, they can reflect on happy experiences as a child and that will make them more likely to come back home.”

It’s important for youth to see that they don’t have to move to Toronto to have a job  at something like coding computers. They can do it here and have an awesome life, added Emily.

Linking generations is big part of that mission, on both sides. The youth benefit from the experience and patience of the older generation. In return, volunteers at Launch Pad discover youth’s excitement is contagious.

Seth has experienced it first hand at the farmers’ market this summer.

“Like the cold brew coffee we tried. Adults can be tentative and overplan. Well, youth just jump in and turns out we sold out!” exclaimed Seth. “They also show me you can jump in and make a mistake and learn from it.”

Through successes and mistakes, the youth feel  a sense of ownership at Launch Pad. “It’s that third space that every society needs....and at Launchpad, they don’t have to buy it. It’s here for them to try something new,” said Seth.

A new project on the horizon for Launch Pad is to replace the unsightly cement blocks surrounding the parking lot with raised bed gardens. Youth will use the woodworking workship to make the boxes and then learn gardening skills once they are set up. It’s a triple win.

As Sage the cookie baker says, Launch Pad “helps me do what I want to do.”

His mom, Steph, agrees. She says Launch Pad has taught Seth management skills and keeps Hanover youth involved in the community.

Sage’s Dad, Todd Martin, reiterates what Emily and Seth say is the goal of Launch Pad. “It gives Sage and the other kids an opportunity to try something to see if they have an interest and then they provide the encouragement to continue in it.”

The centre is open Tuesday to Friday, 3:30 to 8:00 p.m. at 612 10th St. in Hanover. To learn more about Launch Pad, visit their website at www.yatc.ca or at their Facebook page. 

Launch Pad