Boarder-er Games closes after no notice of funding

By Elisa Nguyen
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Former program participants at Board-er Games, a work skills training and development centre for individuals with barriers to employment, are worrying about their future as the centre has closed for an indeterminate period.

On May 3, Project Manager Barb Duguay said she heard back from representatives from MPP Greg Rickford saying that they had just recently been made aware of the issue, and would be looking into it.

Duguay had applied for funding from the Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development, on December 12, 2022, waiting five months with no notice about whether Board-er Games will receive continued funding, causing the center to shut down.

Board-er Games announced their last day of business on March 19, 2023, which was commemorated with a day to play games for free.

Duguay said she has written two emails to the Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development through their website, as directed by her employment training consultant, but no one has reached out despite promises that a reply would be received within 15 days.

“No one has given us any information whatsoever. We dismantled Board-er Games,” she said. “We have to, we don’t have any funding to continue paying the rent or the people.”

Duguay had expressed her sadness at the lack of communication and the center’s involuntary closure. Her employment training consultant had been providing good feedback on the center’s work and Duguay had submitted all her reports on time, she said, causing her to wonder where things went wrong.

“I don’t know if there’s a glitch in the system and I got stuck somewhere,” Duguay said. “It’s so sad because, you know, the community was just getting revved up about it all.”

The report that Duguay submitted on January 9, 2023, to the Valley Adult Learning Association highlighted that Board-er Games had succeeded in meeting all target goals.

They partnered with seven different organizations, four educational institutes, and over 19 employers in order to provide essential skills training and offer workplace security for many “participants,” otherwise known as individuals with disabilities who were in the program.

As safe and accommodating space to enter the workforce, many participants found work with employers after receiving training from Board-er Games. Some of the skills learned included communication, dress code, hygiene, marketing, team building, stock management, event planning, point of sale, and hospitality.

Some of the employers that were instrumental in hiring many participants included Fort Frances Dental Centre, Community Living, Couchiching First Nations, Seven Generations Education Institute, Frantic Films, Grizzly Sales, Bayview Motel, Fort Frances Public Library, Shoppers, Harborage Restaurant, Curvy Chick, The Beer Store, Tribal Health and the Fort Frances Museum, the report said.

Many rural participants are also active with the program, helping to plan on-site events each month such as the Dungeons and Dragons, Dutch Blitz, Ultimate Werewolf, Harry Potter Trivia Night, Chess Tournaments, and Magic the Gathering nights. Participants working as baristas behind the bubble tea counter also received hands-on experience with customer service, the report said.

Since March, staff at Board-er Games have been concerned about their jobs and what their future will be in the upcoming year, while making a list of items to close down the activity centre and distribute items in the building to stakeholders and non-profit organizations.

“Nobody even gave us notice or anything for other people to look for jobs, so it’s kind of sad. We’ve been waiting and waiting, and we’ve been wondering what our futures are going to be like. And the community is like, ‘Well, are we going to reopen?’” Duguay said. “This just brought the town alive.”

The staff at Board-er Games is in limbo, while they wait on word for funding. Until then, the game shop has been shuttered. – Submitted photo

Many former participants and long-time customers have spoken up about the impact that Board-er Games have had on their life.

Randy, a former participant, said Board-er Games provided a safe space for him to learn coping mechanisms to learn and progress within the workplace despite any disabilities. “I learned to push past mental barriers and gained confidence to better work in group settings and integrate myself in other fields of work,” he said.

A former participant named Jacey landed a job at Safeway thanks to his experience at the center. “I loved Board-er Games because I liked the staff who I worked with and it helped with communication with people and learn to work with people and it helped to gain confidence to work at Safeway,” he said.

Nicole, former Board-er Games social media manager, said that the center helped individuals so much more than providing work skills. Despite working remotely, Nicole saw a lot of improvements in her peers and felt herself grow more purposeful and confident.

“Most people don’t realize how much they did other than just the store. At one of the meetings they ask you your goals and help you achieve them, they worked on skills like personal hygiene, they provided training like first aid that was free for the participants, they helped you build a resume so you could get another job,” she said. “The friendships I made with people I probably would have never known. The environment was always so positive and everyone cheered on each other!”

A frequent customer named Paul said he attended the program almost every day it was open, seeing the significant improvement of participants’ confidence and skills in dealing with the public over time. “This is a great program… I’ve seen teenagers, couples and families sitting around the tables laughing and having fun. It would be a shame for this program not to continue,” he said.

Another frequent customer named Norma said she started visiting Board-er Games for their bubble tea, “treat and something not seen in our area” that reminded her of her travels to Southeast Asia. Bringing along her 7-year-old, Norma said the center provided a quiet environment where they could chat and play games.

“It was nice to encourage her to play the types of games that I grew up playing, and getting her away from her Nintendo Switch/screen time. I also started going to Board-er Games with friends for the Trivia Nights, those were a blast, and again, somewhere different to go to in the area. In an area that is full of sports, hunting and fishing, for those of us that aren’t interested in doing those things, Board-er Games provided a nice change,” Norma said.

Many participants who have been unemployed since the closure of Board-er Games have found it difficult to stay motivated, said Duguay. “We’re such a small town… If you don’t have a reason to get up and get dressed and get going in the morning. I could see where you just decline,” she said.