Impact Stories

Happy Children, Healthy and Stronger Communities 

It’s 2:45 pm when the bus arrives at the Sanctuary Pre-Teen Centre, a United Way BC School’s Out Program site. Anna and Katie, 12-year-old sisters, get off the bus and head inside to enjoy a healthy snack. Afterward, they have half an hour of priceless, old-fashioned, free playtime. Kids being kids! 

Anna then goes to a pottery class at the community college, while Katie chooses to help and learn to cook dinner for everyone. When it’s time to eat, the children set the tables, and the whole group enjoys a delicious meal together.  

Now it’s time to play “High, low, buffalo”! Each child states the best part of their day, the most difficult part of their day low, and their ”buffalo”, which is anything they want to add. It’s a safe space to share, be heard, and to learn the importance of listening. 

United Way BC helps kids navigate a challenging world with resilience

Unfortunately, perfect afternoons like this are becoming increasingly rare for many children in BC. Due to the pandemic and the global economic crisis, families are struggling to make ends meet. With less money, parents must work more and miss precious time with their kids, often creating stress and anxiety for everyonei

“I have multiple kids approach me daily just to talk, to be heard, because they don’t receive undivided attention at home and feel no one listens to them,” explains Cassidy Smith, School’s Out program coordinator at Sanctuary. “We notice that some children who participate in the program express feelings of worry about money and the rising costs of everything. Some children don’t have proper food, or any food, all day until they come through our doors. Sometimes children don’t attend school because there is no one home to get them ready to go, so they feel behind,” says Cassidy. 

The program recognizes that while parents are doing their very best during difficult times, everyone needs support sometimes.  

Every child deserves fun and safety for a healthy development 

As the end of the day approaches, kids go for a walk to pick up garbage, put together care kits for the less fortunate, write letters of gratitude to first responders and nurses, or make plans for the future of a healthier planet, like the creation of a community garden! 

“There is something for every mood and every personality. If I’m feeling crafty, there are endless crafts, supplies, and ideas; if I’m feeling hungry, I know I can always eat; if I’m feeling playful, there are so many toys and games,” Anna says. 

United Way BC School’s Out Program is designed to support vulnerable school-aged children by providing them with safe spaces during critical hours between 3 – 6 pm. The program is tailored to foster children’s mental, physical, emotional, and social development in local communities. It sets kids up for success, building their self-esteem by providing the necessary tools to help them be independent, ensure a healthy lifestyle, and promote personal well-being. 

“Before coming here, I was always glued to my phone. Without United Way BC School’s Out program, my days would be filled with a lot of technology and much fewer friends. Here I can be more social, eat a healthy meal every night, and also help my family. After all, it’s a free program,” Katie explains. 

Making friends is essential for any kid’s healthy development. “If you don’t have good friends, you get sad, grumpy, depressed. Sometimes you can even feel insecure about yourself, not knowing who to trust,” says Anna. 

Happier and healthier kids throughout the Province 

In 2022, United Way BC School’s Out programs launched in Central and Northern Vancouver Island, Southern Interior, and Thompson Nicola Cariboo regions, with 37 programs being offered at 108 program sites.

The School’s Out Program at Sanctuary Pre-Teens Centre helps to aid healthy development for children in Trail – BC. Through the various activities and structured projects that School’s Out has facilitated, kids have gained knowledge, tools, and skills to help them grow, learn, and be independent. 

“The program runs five days a week from after school hours, 2:30, until 7:30 pm. We have 50 children registered with us, but daily we average around 15- 20 children coming in,” explains Cassidy. “Sanctuary has been open for 25 years, and we hope to keep it open with the School’s Out Program for at least another 25!” 

Thanks to donors like you, almost 5,000 children participated in United Way School’s Out programs throughout the province. But our waitlists are long and growing. More kids like Anna and Katie need a chance at a happier and healthier life. 

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