Downtown's changing face opens doors for service agency

There’s no doubt Calgary’s downtown is ever evolving.

Times have been tough but the changing face of downtown Calgary is showing a new side, opening up to include room for valuable service agencies and providing non-profit groups prime professional spaces they had only dreamed of calling home.

One of those groups is The Boys and Girls Clubs of Calgary. The charitable organization, which is celebrating its 80th year, has moved its central office and housing team downtown as it works serving more than 4,500 vulnerable children and youth across the city.

“We want to be right in the middle of the action. We have a lot of partnerships with all kinds of people and being on the outskirts of the city doesn't give us an opportunity to connect with people that we work with,” said Boys and Girls Clubs of Calgary CEO Jeff Dyer. Success means being close to partners like funding agencies, Calgary’s dynamic philanthropic community and the young people they are dedicated to serve.

“There is a huge benefit to being downtown because we work with so many young people who are experiencing homelessness, and this is the epi centre of where they hang out. Our old location was off transit lines and it was difficult for them to access us. Plus we end up being in the centre of the energy of our city,” said Dyer.

But the benefits of moving operations downtown don’t end there.

“I think people often think of the not-for-profit sector as another sector. We're huge employer and we just showed up downtown. People don't think of us like this. I am an employer of 250 people. I am an economic driver in this city because of the work that we do. The fact is we're human beings, we're eating at restaurants downtown, we’re contributing to the economy, we're contributing to the walkability and vibrancy.”

For staff, having a central office is a boost in more ways than one.

“It's easy access for them to come to work and feel a part of it, there’s great coffee shops and wonderful restaurants and good energy on the streets. They don’t feel like they’re an island onto themselves working out in the middle of nowhere. It's easy for them to blend in a bit working with some really vulnerable young people in our city, so many of the young people we serve are living nearby.”

The Boys and Girls Clubs of Calgary offers housing services, including the city’s only youth shelter Avenue 15, for homeless youth. Already, staff are seeing an ease in connecting with vulnerable youth.

“When we moved downtown young people were coming to us, they wanted to pop by and they like having a safe space where they can connect with staff,” said Kim Ledene, director of youth housing and shelter. Many need help accessing services such as Alpha House or the Sheldon Chumir Health Centre.

“It’s really accessible by transit to jump on the train and walk two blocks to us. We’ve got a lot of positive feedback from our young people about our new location and being able to connect with our services. Our staff are feeling like it’s improving the quality of their work when young people can just pop downtown and meet them. They can take them to their appointments to support them.”

The City of Calgary remains committed to the economic recovery of our city on behalf of citizens, customers, communities and businesses. Reviving our downtown is one of three critical focus areas of Calgary’s Comeback; a campaign focused on getting Calgarians the right information about the work that is, and has been, underway to address our current economic challenges.

“We are aiming to offset the effects of a prolonged economic downturn and recovery and positively impact the vibrancy, resilience and economy downtown,” said Downtown Strategy Program Lead Thom Mahler. “This initiative is about diversifying, and ensuring we remain a great place to make a living and great place to make a life. It is not just about vacant office towers. We are really aiming to re-establish the setting of our downtown. We want it to be identified as the heart of the city - somewhere worth doing business, working, socializing, living, playing and more.”

The Boys and Girls Club of Calgary is adding to the vibrancy of downtown and making life better for vulnerable youth.

“Being here is spectacular. We've been wanting to be downtown for a long time. We just couldn't afford it. We've ended up being beneficiaries of this downturn somewhat,” said Dyer. “It's not all bad news…. If you interview most people you'll hear things are terrible and it's worse than last year. I don't believe that to be true. We're transforming as a city and we're becoming better. And we will deliver better services for young people as a result.”

Calgary is a dynamic and resilient city and The City of Calgary and its partners are committed to our economic recovery to make life better every day for citizens, customers, communities and businesses. To learn more about our efforts to support “Calgary’s Comeback,” visit