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Impact Stories

My friend Flicka

Thanks to a four-legged counsellor named Flicka at the Freedom Reins Equine Connections Spring Break Camp in Yarrow, and the United for the Fraser Valley: Community Re-builder Initiative, Mia is healing.

For the past eight months, 12-year-old Mia* has called a combination of her grandparents’ house and an RV her home. Her family lives in the Fraser Valley’s Sumas Prairie and were among the thousands of area residents devastated by last November’s flooding. The once-in-a-generation flooding during the COVID-19 pandemic has had a tremendous impact on the mental health of local children and youth. 

“Our whole house was wrecked. We lost so much,” Mia says.  

“There has been very little consistency for kids during COVID. All those things like school and gatherings that are predictable in a young person’s life suddenly were not anymore,” says Sharalee Prang, a United Way British Columbia Community Re-builder. “The flooding added another layer to that, of not actually having the safety of your own home. It is very traumatizing,” 

Thanks to a four-legged counsellor named Flicka at the Freedom Reins Equine Connections Spring Break Camp in Yarrow, and the United for the Fraser Valley: Community Re-builder Initiative, Mia is healing. She was able to attend the special camp, which offers equine therapy, thanks to support from a Local Love microgrant and the thoughtfulness of Sharalee. 

Freedom Reins Spring Break Camp is one of 32 Local Love-funded projects that took place in the Fraser Valley between December 2021 and May 2022. It is part of United Way British Columbia’s Urgent Response Initiative to help people recover from very traumatic events by working in and with local communities to address ongoing food, trauma, and mental health needs to support residents who are recovering and moving forward in their lives with dignity. Freedom Reins and other Local Love-funded projects are made possible by a $500,000 investment from the Dennis and Phyllis Washington FoundationSRY Rail Link, and the Washington Companies.  

Horses help 

“Freedom Reins was fun,” Mia says. “I liked connecting with Flicka.”

“Each child is different. For some they like to ride bareback, and we allow that if it is safe. For others they will lay on the horse and allow themselves to relax,” says Dora Isaak, owner of Freedom Reins, which provides activities with horses to promote physical, occupational, and emotional growth in children, youth, and adults in need. 

“The heartbeat of the horse is slower than a human heartbeat. Our heart beats in sympathy with the horse’s heartbeat and will slow down. It has a physical calming effect.” 

Resident-led impact 

Yarrow resident Dora and Ronny, a new member of the Freedom Reins team.

Bringing residents like Mia and Dora together to rebuild and recover from last year’s floods is what United for the Fraser Valley: Community Re-builder Initiative is all about. Residents with strong social networks and a deep knowledge of their community like Sharalee are hired as Community Re-builders. They quickly identify others in their community who need help and assess their evolving needs. From there, they connect residents with programs and services specific to a community.  

Local Love microgrants support resident-led initiatives and projects promoting recovery and resilience. Whether it is providing hot meals for cleanup efforts, essential items so people can return to their homes and farms, or supporting outreach work like the Freedom Reins Spring Break Camp for youth, United Way British Columbia is there. 

“We are working to provide a safe space for all kinds of people to engage and to connect to each other,” Sharalee says.  

The Community Re-builder Initiative operates community hubs in Sumas Prairie, Yarrow, the Sumas and Skwah First Nations.  

“The Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation is proud to support the thousands of residents of the south coast of BC who have experienced extreme flooding. We hope that the availability of our financial resources administered through the United for the Fraser Valley: Community Re-builder Initiative will help supply the necessary food, household goods and emergency supplies for affected residents,” says Mike Halligan, Executive Director of the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation.

Along with Community Re-builders and microgrants, initiative funding also helped when flooding first hit with transportation of food, appliances, household goods, and emergency supplies for affected residents and neighbourhoods. Targeted mental health support to the farming and agricultural community are also part of this one-year Initiative, which runs January 1 to December 31, 2022. 

“I am incredibly grateful that SRY is part of the Washington Companies and that the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation is able to make this donation to the United Way. I am proud to be part of a larger family that can offer help to rebuild lives and families in the Fraser Valley,” says Gerald Linden, President, Southern Railway of British Columbia.  

Strengthening vital connections 

Connecting brings healing and recovery.

Thanks to United Way’s Urgent Response Initiative, Flicka, Mia, Dora, and Sharalee are now connected; helping to build a web of care for a brighter future for the Fraser Valley. 

“Mia was unbelievably quiet until the last day of camp,” Dora says. “By the end of the day I saw a huge smile and a glow from her. It was amazing.” 

“Mia rides horses once a week by our house but the therapeutic part of the camp was great for her,” says Joanne*, Mia’s Mom. “We have had a lot of tough days. This was something positive during that time.” 

*Names changed for privacy