“Look, this is the dance group. And in the photo next to it, with that police car, you can see our car wash. We wash cars in the summer for six euros each.” As soon as RTL reporter Nieuws enters the youth center on a Wednesday night, Shirley starts talking excitedly.
His daughter Shaniqua (18) kindly answered the door a minute early. “I saw you coming, come in.” It’s not 7 pm yet, officially young people still have to be patient. “Should it be closed again, Mom?” You do not have to do it. Shirley is here now anyway.
Cozy despite everything
Jacx is located on the edge of the Venlo district of Vastenavondkamp. “Have you heard about it on the news? Lots of low literacy, single parents and people on benefits. Residents with criminal records. It was an extremely troubled neighborhood. But in the last few years, hard work has been done.” And despite all the baggage, it’s a nice, social neighborhood.”
As the first visitors begin to arrive, Shirley shows her dominance. It is a large room with a pointed ceiling. From one of the walls, a huge graffiti-painted rapper, Tupac, looks at you with raised eyebrows. “That hand gesture he makes means”West Side’. That’s what young people call the neighborhood here.”
The sofas are scattered here and there. A pool table, a ping pong table, large screen TVs with game consoles, a punching bag, and a game cabinet; young people do not have to be bored. But with a journalist inside, they prefer to opt for the party tent in the building’s backyard tonight.
“It won’t be very busy anyway,” Shirley says. “That’s because of Ramadan. Many young people are now sleeping, until they can eat as soon as the sun goes down.”
Normally, Jacx has around 1200 visitors per month. all with their own estate. “Do you see all those flags there on the wall? They take them themselves. That’s the Moroccan one. There’s the Turkish, the Egyptian, the Moluccan, the Spanish and further on, a Surinamese. A little while ago a child said: there is no Polish flag “. still. flag. A day later he walked in and yelled: I ordered it, so that’s the next one to come.”
Jacx is much more than a place where young people come to relax. Activities are organized together with schools and sports clubs. Neighborhood Trainers and Community Police are right at home. Free products such as sanitary napkins and condoms are distributed to those who need them. And there are youth workers. “If I’m worried about one of my young people, I talk to them myself.”
After a short silence, Shirley adds, “That happens quite often. I’m an emotional person, I take everything home. The worst is when a child is abused. Or when parents put their child on the street. One of My girls who don’t have such a nice boyfriend, I can’t stand it either.”
Shirley is allergic to the word young problem. “They do not exist. There are young people with many problems. They are usually a child of the account, who play a lot at home. You have to be there for them, without judging them. They deserve a chance. He has 4, he needs 5 or 6 chances.”
Lines of communication with regular aid agencies are short. They are enabled when necessary. But Shirley and her family, her four children and her 70-year-old mother, all volunteers at Jacx, do a lot for themselves. “If young people don’t know what they want from school, we go to open houses with them. I also take them to job interviews.”
She laughs and tells about a boy who just didn’t know what to do with his life. “My daughter took her laptop and said look, a lot of people are needed in healthcare now. She showed him what he can earn there per month, a huge amount for him. The next day he came in and said thanks to I have. I didn’t sleep. I was googling possibilities all night.” And now? “He has started training in health care.”
free boxing classes
A loud noise echoes through the room. A boy who has just arrived collides with a punching bag, one of those seen at fairs. He sounds the ‘eye of the tiger’, colored lights flash. Moments later, a grown man walks in. “This is Jack. He gives Thai boxing lessons to the youngsters here. Free.” He’s coming tonight to chat.
Once upon a time, Shirley, who trained as an educational social worker, worked in childcare. But due, among other things, to the condition psoriatic arthritis (a form of psoriasis that causes pain in the joints), she was turned away and she has to live off the benefits.
She is the spider in Jacx’s web willingly, she doesn’t earn a penny for it. “People sometimes say: can you work all those hours here too? That’s how it is. But here I can organize my work myself. On bad days, my kids take over. couch.”
Why are you so eager to help the youth in your neighborhood, what drives you? “I think I got it from home. When I was a kid, my mom cared for teen parents with their babies. Then they lived with us in the attic for a few months. And we were a crisis shelter for youth care.”
Shirley now has children of her own, three girls and a man between the ages of 18 and 36. When the younger ones became teenagers, the shed behind her house in the Vastenavendkamp district automatically became a kind of youth club. “The door was always open, everyone knew that. Anyone who wanted to relax or had problems at home could go there. There was something to eat and drink in the fridge. The rules were simple: no alcohol, no hard drugs and everyone clean their own shit.”
When the Venlo municipality was looking for residents who wanted to actively help the neighborhood move forward four years ago, Shirley rose to the challenge. The young man needed a place to go, she thought. A space larger than his own barn, with engaging activities.
He went looking for an empty building and found it on Drie Decembersingel. He asked the municipality of Venlo for 7,000 euros to pay a year’s rent. She got it and that was it: Jacx was a fact. Later, a foundation was formed to run the center and funds, donors, and subsidies were sought to keep things running.
Offer young people a place to develop their talents and get to know each other, prevent them from falling into crime, reduce nuisances on the street; this is how Venlo describes ‘Jacx’s goal’. For all this to happen, volunteers are essential, writes the municipality in an email to RTL News. “Shirley is one of those very important volunteers. We really appreciate her commitment, her enthusiasm and her dedication.”
Shirley, in turn, is delighted when one of ‘her’ young men achieves a personal victory. “Seeing a change of mentality in a boy or a girl, I like that.”
She continues: “Sometimes they really don’t know what to do anymore, everything around them is in shambles.”
smile and dream again
That is where your biggest challenge lies. Then he does everything he can to help that boy or girl, along with the authorities. “So sometimes you see them switch friend groups, or go back to school. Or they find a job. Hot-tempered, aggressive attitude, big middle finger to everyone, then slowly disappears. Then you can laugh again, dream. That it makes me happy.”
Shirley’s daughter, Sensimelia (26), enters with a large box full of sandwiches. “From a nearby supermarket. We can pick up their leftovers from the fresh produce department for free in the evening. We put it on trays and put it on the table right away.”
Shirley calls out to her other daughter, “Can you show this reporter the music studio?” She does. She descends a flight of stairs and enters the basement. A surprisingly large room emerges, with a drum set and some large speakers and amplifiers. “A band practices here every week.”
From such a mother such a daughter
Next to it there is a small chill-out area with a bench. And next door is the music studio. “The songs are recorded here.” Shaniqua, 18, has the same proud look as her mother when she talks about the opportunities Jacx has to discover and develop passions and talents.
She practically grew up in the youth center herself. Will she take care of her mother later? “Yes, I really want that. I study social work. I want to become a youth worker. If others are happy, I am too.”
And the others are happy. Anyway, tonight. The young people present have moved inside from the party tent. Do they come here often? “Yes, every night, until I have to go home around 9:30 pm,” says a 15-year-old boy. “At first I was afraid to come here, I was a bit shy and shy around people. Now I like to have a good click with the people here.”
He takes a sandwich from the tray on the table and joins his companions. Thai boxing teacher Jack calls out to him, “You’ve been to the hairdresser, haven’t you? When did you get that done? It looks good, you know.”
On a sofa in the corner of the room, Shirley takes a sip of her tea. Or is it sometimes not so much fun? She thinks for a moment: “I’m a little Old School about norms and values. Courtesy is very important to me. That you say ‘haije’ (Limburgish greeting) when entering or leaving. That respect is not always there, teenagers are very selfish.”
And there is something else. Not everyone is happy with their job. “Not all parents love me, that’s simple. If I help a young person and he changes, going to therapy, for example, then something changes at home. Not all moms or dads are waiting for that. So the reactions are not always pleasant . I take it”.
Shirley pats her 11-year-old granddaughter, who also came tonight, with long brown hair on the head. “She already helps with the activities,” says a proud grandmother. “And she draws posters when there’s something to do for elementary school kids.”
She looks at the girl with a smile, “That has to be spoon-fed, right?! When it’s old and worn out, you’ll have to.”
Every Sunday we publish an interview in text and photos of someone who does or has experienced something special. That may be a major event that the person handles admirably. Sunday interviews have in common that the story has a great influence on the life of the interviewee.
Are you or do you know someone who would be suitable for a Sunday interview? Please let us know via this email address: Zondaginterview@rtl.nl
Read the interviews from the previous Sunday here.