Impact Stories

Linda’s School’s Out Story

Ten is Linda’s favourite number! That’s because when this Grade Four student turns 10, she can walk to school by herself. Independence is exciting especially when you’re a kid. And thanks to a United Way School’s Out program, Linda’s confidence and belief in herself is growing in leaps and bounds. 

Two years ago, when Linda first joined this downtown Vancouver after-school program offered through community partner agency, Red Fox Healthy Living Society (Red Fox) it was a very different story.  

“I was really shy,” she says. “I was scared of other kids.” Not anymore. 

“She has a lot more confidence. She’s meeting new people and making some friends, talking more,” says Linda’s mom, Linda Sr.  

Confidence and self-esteem are essential to ensuring every child can reach their full potential as they grow into adulthood. But the last few years have made this challenging for many kids. In fact, a number of local and national studies are showing that kids and youth are facing mental health challenges. 

Fueled by the pandemic and pressures of inflation, families are struggling, which can create stress and anxiety. Linda’s mom works full-time as kitchen manager at a local community service organization, but, for families like hers living in Vancouver, the high cost of living means there is not a lot of money left, if any, after rent and food are covered. This makes vital after-school programs out of reach for many. 

United Way helps all kids get a good start  

School’s Out after-school programs are designed to support school-aged children by providing them safe spaces where they can get the mental wellness and developmental support, they need during the critical hours between 3 to 6 pm.  

“The kids know it’s a safe space because it allows them to grow in the way that they need to grow,” says Joseph Posey, Red Fox School’s Out Program Coordinator. “We’re not telling them: this is how it’s supposed to be done. They’re able to learn their own way.” 

At this School’s Out program, group games, circus arts and other physical activities help cultivate self-confidence, social connections, and new skills. 

“There are a lot of different things that we do with youth that allow them to grow and then make friends. It’s a great way to meet other people in the school.” 

And making friends is important because it helps build connections and resilience.  

“The best part of the program is seeing my friends,” Linda says. “I like walking around with my friend,” Linda says. “We talk about food and toys.” 

And every Monday, between 3-5 PM from September to June, those friends are there for Linda. They include not only kids Linda’s age, but also School’s Out program coordinators like Joseph, a facilitator and two to five youth leaders who help deliver one and a half to two-hour School’s Out sessions to about 20 children.  

Along with social and emotional supports and physical activities to help at-risk kids develop basic life skills and positive social behaviours and lifestyles, School’s Out programs also offer educational support, homework assistance and healthy snacks like strawberries, oranges and blueberries, which are Linda’s favourites, after hot dogs and spaghetti, of course.

Making a difference for kids 

In 2022/23, 39 United Way School’s Out programs were delivered at 108 locations across British Columbia supporting almost 5,000 children. In 2022, United Way School’s Out Summer was launched, providing free or low-cost quality summer programs to over 1,800 children in the region. 

School’s Out Summer day camps help reduce learning loss between school years, give kids great summer memories and provide regular access to healthy, nutritious, and culturally appropriate snacks – all to help ensure kids stay healthy, happy, and resilient. While most School’s Out programs are offered free or at low-cost, money isn’t the only hurdle kids face when it comes to getting a good start in life. 

Reducing barriers  

Linda Sr (Mom) and Linda Jr (Daughter) share a smile

Of the almost 550 kids attending United Way School’s Out programming with Red Fox, 41% identify as newcomer, while nearly 33% like Linda are Indigenous. Our fastest growing middle years populations – children aged 6-12 – are Indigenous, Black, newcomer, and refugee and they face disproportionate barriers to accessing quality programming.  

“We’ve seen the impact that having diverse role models has on children and their development. Interacting with adult mentors who are successful and proud of their cultural background supports children to develop a positive self-identity, feel proud of their heritage and better understand their place in the world, which means that kids can be ready for any challenges the future may hold,” says Trisha Dulku, Strategic Initiatives Manager with Community Impact and Investment at United Way British Columbia. 

Diversity matters 

Having a role model from your community like Joseph, who also lives in downtown Vancouver, inspires kids to see what is possible. 

Joseph started out as a youth leader with Red Fox 13 years ago and today serves as program coordinator working with children at schools across Lower Mainland including the following Vancouver neighbourhoods: Collingwood, Grandview-Woodlands, and Strathcona as well as Surrey, North and West Vancouver, Maple Ridge and New Westminster.  

“I’m Haida from Queen Charlotte from my mother’s side and Cree, Sioux, Ojibwe from my father’s side from Manitoba,” he says. “When I first started, I was very shy. I didn’t talk a lot. [Working with Red Fox] has allowed me to be able to communicate with other people better. They allowed me to grow at my own pace.” 

“Joseph is kind. I like Joseph. He plays with us, with everyone,” Linda says.  

Joseph’s experience and empathy, along with those of 67 youth mentors, aged 13 and above, helps kids chart a path to success with less worry and more joy.  

This means Linda can be just like her sister, Margarita, who also attended this School’s Out program and is graduating from an East Vancouver high school in June and plans to enroll in the Culinary Arts program at Vancouver Community College. 

“Linda is very happy seeing and watching what Margarita does. They bake together from time to time and she’s excited for Margarita to graduate high school and go into college next year,” says Linda Sr. 

Better for kids, better for mental health, better for community 

“By investing in quality after-school programs, we’ve seen how it leads to improved social and emotional competencies, including prosocial behavior, intrinsic motivation, better concentration efforts, and a higher sense of self-worth for students,” says Trisha. “This is something to be celebrated and supported.” 

“Kids become more involved and that allows them to get to know the community a lot better. I feel the more the community gets to know each other and the more we help each other out, the better the community is,” Joseph says. 

In 2022, United Way School’s Out programs launched in Central and Northern Vancouver Island, in the Southern Interior and in the Thompson Nicola and Cariboo regions with 37 programs being offered at 108 program sites. Thanks to donors like you, almost 5,000 children participated in United Way School’s Out programs, but our waitlists are long and growing. More kids like Linda need support. 

Help bring the joy back to childhood. Donate to United Way BC so kids get the support they need through our School’s Out program.