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'Bursting at the seams,' Zebra Centre fundraising to complete move to brand new space in west Edmonton

Visitors tour the Zebra Centre's new space in West Edmonton on April 4, 2024. (Miriam Valdes-Carletti/CTV News Edmonton) Visitors tour the Zebra Centre's new space in West Edmonton on April 4, 2024. (Miriam Valdes-Carletti/CTV News Edmonton)

Edmonton's Zebra Centre is leaving its original but long outgrown home in the downtown core.

By September, the agency that supports youth who have experienced abuse and neglect or witnessed crime will be operating at 14325 112 Ave. NW in west Edmonton, officials hope.

"The current Zebra Centre is truly bursting at the seams and it has been for years," CEO Emmy Steubing told those at a celebratory news announcement at the new building on Thursday.

Since opening in an office building on Jasper Avenue in 2002, the Zebra Child and Youth Advocacy Centre has grown to help more than double its annual capacity of 2,000 children.

Since 2019, demand for services has grown by 85 per cent. Officials say the rise indicates more survivors are reporting crimes than before.

In 2023, the Zebra Centre helped 4,362 youth. More than half of the youth had been sexually abused. Almost 40 per cent had experienced physical abuse.

A growing number of cases, such as online child luring, involve dozens of youth, all of whom need to be interviewed and supported, which requires more resources and space, Steubing said.

"We're hopeful that we've plateaued a bit, but 4,000 kids a year is still a lot and our need is apparent," she told CTV News Edmonton in an interview later.

"For example, right now, we don't have space for all of the counsellors for mental health supports. Now we will."

Layout plans for the Zebra Centre's new space in West Edmonton at a media event April 4, 2024. (Miriam Valdes-Carletti/CTV News Edmonton) The 3,716-square metre building will enable the Zebra Centre to add two child forensic interview rooms, nine meeting rooms, 22 offices for staff and partners, a toy room, a sacred wellness room, and a training classroom.

Additionally, the new location comes with access to a green space and free parking – one of the most frequent complaints from families that have accessed the Zebra Centre over the past years, according to Steubing.

"It's conducive to (have) all the services in one spot," Edmonton Police Service chief Dale McFee told CTV News Edmonton.

"Everybody has a role to play and the reality is if we can make it a less threatening – or a less scary environment, maybe, is the way it is – I think it's just a good thing."

The Zebra Centre signed a lease-to-own agreement to acquire the building.

The total cost to relocate, including renovation costs, is $6.18 million.

Having already fundraised $3 million, the centre is launching a campaign to gather the rest.

Of the amount already raised, more than $210,000 was raised by students at Strathcona High School, who presented a cheque to the Zebra Centre on Thursday.

"I know people who have gone through the centre and to be able to support them in that way, it's really impactful for me personally," student Julia Stickland told CTV News Edmonton.

"We've been planning this event for so long – like, since Grade 10… And coming together here, presenting, showing all of our hard work, and just knowing it goes to a good cause, it just feels so surreal," added peer Prabhjoyt Singh.

Steubing encouraged anyone who was interested in making either financial or in-kind donations to visit the centre's website or get in touch.

The Zebra Centre was in part founded by board member Mary Michailides, who as a school principal supported a student through the process of reporting abuse to police. As unnerving as it was for her as an adult, she concluded going to a police station and repeating a testimony to officers must be even more scary and difficult for a young child.

The agency's name was inspired by the animal. In herds, zebras will encircle and protect young and vulnerable members when a threat appears.

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Miriam Valdes-Carletti Top Stories

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