Meet twins Karen and Kelly (11), their sister, Mabel (9) and their little brother, Addison (6). Karen likes math and swimming, Kelly is a writer and illustrator, and Mabel spends time practicing different voices. Addison doesn’t like celery but loves tacos and learning to spell. Like many newcomer and immigrant families, the tight-knit siblings live in Surrey. Their Whalley neighbourhood is both richly diverse with almost half (49%) the residents’ immigrants and rapidly growing.
“I like that I get to see sunsets and bridges because it looks like a pretty photo and there’s a park nearby with raspberry bushes,” Kelly says, but she finds the ongoing construction very loud. Her sister, Karen, agrees.
Basics and little else
Like many families, the children’s parents work hard to pay for food, rent, and clothing, but it’s challenging. Their mother, Sandy is studying to become a nurse and spends the morning completing homework and afternoons in class while their father, Teng, works long hours seven days a week.
Living on a single income means they can’t afford to send their children to quality out-of-school-time programs, which studies have revealed puts them at risk for mental health issues, learning challenges, addictions, obesity, and more. Many BC families find themselves in similar situations; in fact, one in five BC children (156,560) is poor.1
“Race, place and income should never dictate the future of children and youth,” says Jasica Grewal, Director, Community Impact & Investment at United Way British Columbia – working in communities in BC’s Interior, Lower Mainland and Central & Northern Vancouver Island (United Way BC). “There is an unmet need in the community to support and increase opportunities for children and youth. The pandemic has highlighted and exposed this need and United Way BC is responding.”
For over a decade United Way’s School’s Out Initiative has funded high quality out-of-school time programs for school-aged children Grades 1-7. Our School’s Out programs provide healthy, safe, educational activities so that children have access to the mental wellness and developmental supports they need in safe spaces, particularly during the critical hours between 3 – 6 pm. Programs offer homework assistance, physical activity and development, mentoring, social and emotional support, and help at-risk kids develop life skills.
Children participating in School’s Out programs often experience vulnerability in their daily lives – they live in poverty or in a low-income family, and they often don’t have enough to eat. Some have experienced trauma or have been affected by intergenerational trauma. Others have learning and physical disabilities. Sometimes the children lack positive adult role models in their lives and a sense of connection to their community leaving them struggling for a sense of belonging. For kids living in vulnerable situations, the pandemic made things even worse.
“One of our main focuses is just having fun and being a kid and being in a safe environment where they don’t have to worry about pressures at home or in the community,” says Sunny Chuti, School’s Out Coordinator with Options Community Services one of 33 organizations delivering United Way out-of-school programming in the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley.
Nurtured and nourished
Thanks to United Way donors, over 4,000 school-aged kids like Karen, Kelly, Mabel and Addison across the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley participated in School’s Out programs last year. Ninety-seven (97) percent of those sessions were in-person and that’s important because participating in School’s Out programming helps kids achieve greater academic success, increases their self-confidence and self-esteem, and helps them develop positive social behaviours and lifestyles. It also brings joy to their lives.
“I like playing with other kids, playing tag and stuff,” says Karen who considers herself naturally shy. “It’s given me more self-confidence and I’m starting to get better at talking to people.”
Because almost 20% of BC families don’t have enough food to eat, School’s Out also provides access to healthy, nutritious food. During the 21/22 school year almost 207,000 snacks were provided for kids. Snacks and food are also sent home to families in need as care packages.
“They’re always able to access any sort of snack [because] kids engage better, they’re more receptive and they’re more talkative when they have a full belly,” says Sunny. Some kids are afraid to ask for snacks, while others have never had them. “We always offer them snacks.”
School’s Out and School’s Out Summer programs, which were launched this year, are part of a web of year-round care that helps strengthen vital connections between kids and youth, schools, families and communities so they are more resilient and prepared for the future.
For Karen, this means meeting more people and becoming an electrician. Kelly is currently interested in completing her handwritten, illustrated book about sky cats (creatures that live in the clouds) and she would like to be a dentist. Meanwhile Mabel, who also likes to draw, wants to be a voice actor, and, like many little boys his age, Addison has his sights set on being a firefighter or policeman.
“It helps people have new experiences, make friends and have closer bonds with people and it just makes people genuinely happy,” Kelly says of her School’s Out experience.
Help kids province-wide as we expand School’s Out to our regions
“Every child in British Columbia deserves access to programming and activity year-round that support their wellness and ability to thrive,” says United Way BC’s Jasica Grewal.
“The kids are super happy to be here,” Sunny says. “Kids wouldn’t have this opportunity if it wasn’t for United Way.”
Let’s be here for brighter futures. Donate today. For tomorrow.