As we enter 2024, we look forward to a new year of sharing and caring. Fraser Valley residents embody this spirit year-round. With support from United Way BC Hi Neighbour and our Local Love Fund, dedicated Community Builders, Community Champions and volunteers from across the area came together to create and celebrate healthy, caring, inclusive communities for everyone. This work led to United Way BC being chosen as a Top Pick in the 2023 Community Organization of the Year category in Chilliwack. United Way BC Hi Neighbour Fraser Valley team shares some 2023 highlights.
Semá:th Nation -Truth and Reconciliation
United Way BC has been privileged to engage with Fraser Valley Indigenous groups as we seek to build strong, healthy, inclusive communities together. Sitting, learning, and listening to each of these unique communities has been United Way’s focus; only because of these valued relationships can we introduce and outline areas to support when building community-led programs. United Way continues to learn from our Indigenous partners about how we can respectfully support Truth and Reconciliation. This past September that included supporting local ceremonies to honour residential school survivors and respectfully remember the children who did not return. Members of our team were honoured to volunteer at and attend Stó:lō Commemoration Ceremonies at Fraser River Heritage Park in Mission at the former site of the St. Mary’s Residential School. Our Community Builder Lenny joined other members of Semá:th First Nation to plan and host the Honouring Our Elders ceremony.
Intergenerational drum-making with Elders and youth is another way healing was promoted. At a day-long session, a group of Semá:th men and youth prepared hides, rings and twine. Residential school survivors played a part in the creation of this group.
Mill Lake-Babich – sharing food makes a difference
In early November, the Mill Lake Community Cupboard opened. This innovative, anonymous community cupboard (the first of its kind in Abbotsford) is designed to increase food accessibility 24 hours a day, with the simple and inclusive philosophy of “Take what you need, leave what you can.” A fantastic team worked hard to turn this vision into reality. Community Builder Jasmine and United Way BC joined forces with Pastor Randy from Mill Lake Church, to make it happen. The goal is ensure that no one in the local community goes hungry by providing essential food items to families and individuals in need. The project’s success is a testament to the power of collaboration, with partnerships, sponsorships, and the dedicated support of volunteers playing a pivotal role. The Mill Lake Community Cupboard is a beacon of hope and support, made possible by a caring and compassionate community. Interested in volunteering with the community cupboard or donating food? Contact Jasmine at jasmineb.uwbc.ca.
From Ukrainian perogies to Middle Eastern falafel and Kenyan mukimo, Abbotsford community members and partners came together to connect through food at the heartwarming and flavorful Multicultural Food Sharing Event, which showcased diversity and the strength that arises when people come together through food, laughter, and shared stories. The event took place with the generous support of United Way BC, Archway Community Services and Tourism Abbotsford.
Sardis – building bridges at the park
In July, the highly anticipated Kids Fun Day at Sardis Park was an enormous success! Thanks to Hi Neighbour Sardis Community Champion Safeer, his team of a dozen hardworking volunteers, and Local Love funding an impressive array of activities for both children and their families was organized; mesmerizing henna designs, delicious free popsicles, mouth-watering pizza, spectacular Face Painting and bouncy castles that kept the kids entertained for hours on end.
Sardis Park is a popular place with United Way BC’s “Love is Louder” event taking place in September. Community Builder Teri and numerous volunteers were involved in the event, which showcased the healing power of community connections to support individuals during times of adversity and challenge. Along with the messages of love, acceptance, and reassurance that everyone is deeply valued, there were many creative activities, from making crafts to crafting love messages for a quilt. Singer and entertainer Jada McKenzie Moore topped the event with a performance centered on the spirit of love, unity, and support.
Cedar Valley – building stronger communities
Over 1,000 women, many adorned in henna, jewels and colorful suits and saris, came together for Mela Shaukeena Da in Cedar Valley in July. The celebration, which was hosted by Community Champion Jash and partially funded through a United Way Local Love grant, is based on a Punjabi tradition where women gather to visit their friends and families they have left when going to live with their in-laws. The celebration featured performances of Bhangra dancing, and DJ Prince making it a vibrant outdoor party where music and laughter could be heard from blocks away.
In October, the Cedar Valley Community Cupboard opened. The cupboard was filled with essential items such as non-perishable food, sanitary products, and diapers. The project was supported by United Way BC and Community Builder Stefany, Cedar Valley Church members, and a devoted team of volunteers at Tools to Empower, who built the cupboard (Check out our December Volunteer Spotlight on United Way BC social channels to learn more!). Working together helps facilitate solutions that assist our community members during challenging times.
Sumas Prairie – summer and fall fun for everyone
What do ice cream and lawnmowers have in common? They’re tools for community building! In July, Hi Neighbour Sumas Prairie’s Community Builder Gurjit’s Ice Cream in the Park saw 110 people show up for free ice cream thanks to a United Way Local Love fund grant. The 2023 Arnold Community Church Block Party was one for the record books thanks to a Hi Neighbour Community Impact grant. Local Indian, Mexican, and Mennonite cuisine was featured as part of the meal and dessert. It was part of the event’s goal of more community inclusivity. Folks also enjoy a bike parade, bouncy houses, games, face-painting, and lawnmower races.
Yarrow – the fabric of community
In Yarrow, Hi Neighbour Local Love funds meant materials for ‘Sewing with Mrs. Bergen’. Community Champion and retired schoolteacher, Mrs. Bergen and youth sewed quilts to donate to a local charity to give to homeless/street entrenched community members in need. Over the summer weekly engagement events hosted by Community Builder Deanna including National Lollipop Day, where residents were invited to find Deanna and get a free lollipop, a back-by-popular demand rock painting workshop and Bannock in the Park with bannock prepared by Gale from Sema:th Nation.
Skwah Nation – a journey of healing
The River Spirit Canoe Club received a United Way Hi Neighbour Community Grant to help bring children and youth of the Skwah Nation together with their elders to be connected to culture, wellness, and one another. The grant helped fund the Muckleshoot canoe journey of healing from Skwah First Nation in Chilliwack to Muckleshoot in Washington State. The journey, which took place July 21 to August 6, saw the community working together for success. Parents, matriarchs, grandparents, young adults, and youth all took part to help where and when needed; from helping people get ID to cross the border and arranging rides and carpools to cooking and cleaning.
“This grant helped out many low-income families so that they didn’t need to worry financially for food or gas,” says Beth, River Spirit Canoe Club Leader and Community Champion, who worked with Community Builder Margaret to apply for the grant. “It provided a space for participants to get to know one another and form relationships amongst another and gain support systems within family or community.”
The River Spirit Canoe Club was joined by members from other nearby nations and canoe clubs; together they formed the Pil’alt Warrior Canoe Family. The club has become an integral part of the sense of community at Skwah and is helping youth rebuild positive self-image through intergenerational connections. The canoe journey will continue to be an annual event.
Community members make a difference
Strengthening vital connections between community members creates joy, promotes understanding, and supports resilience. It also helps build awareness of the resources and services available for those in need. Last year, nearly 150 Local Love-funded projects like the ones showcased above connected almost 9,000 community members in 12 Hi Neighbour communities across the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley.
To learn more about Hi Neighbour in the Fraser Valley, Lower Mainland and beyond, visit: Hi Neighbour | United Way British Columbia (uwbc.ca).