Twins Karen and Kelly (11), their sister, Mabel (9), and their little brother, Addison (6), are the tight-knit siblings of an immigrant family living in Surrey. Their Whalley neighbourhood is rapidly growing and diverse, with almost half (49%) of the residents new Canadians.
Like many families, the children’s parents work hard to pay for food, rent, and clothing, but it’s challenging. Their mother is studying to become a nurse while their father 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. Studies have revealed it could put them at risk for mental health issues, learning challenges, addictions, obesity, and more. Many BC families find themselves in similar situations.
“Race, place, and income should never dictate the future of children and youth,” says Jasica Grewal. She is the 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 highlighted and exposed this need, and United Way BC is responding.”
United Way British Columbia serves a population of over 4 million people, delivering resources and support to those who need it most. We strengthen vital connections in local communities by creating healthy, caring, and inclusive communities through programs like United Way BC School’s Out.
School’s Out funds high-quality after-school programs for children in Grades 1-7. This program provides healthy, safe, educational activities so that children can access the mental wellness and developmental supports they need in safe spaces: homework assistance, physical activity, and development, mentoring, social and emotional support, and life skills.
Children participating in School’s Out programs often experience vulnerability in their daily lives – they live in poverty or in low-income families. Some have experienced or been affected by intergenerational trauma, while 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.
“One of our main focuses is just having fun for kids in a safe environment and free from pressures at home or in the community,” says Sunny Chuti, School’s Out Coordinator. It functions together with Options Community Services, one of 33 organizations delivering United Way out-of-school programming in the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley.
Thanks to United Way donors. Over 4,000 school-aged kids like Karen, Kelly, Mabel and Addison in BC participated in Schools Out programs last year. It also helped kids achieve tremendous academic success, increase self-confidence, and develop positive social behaviours and lifestyles. It also brings them joy.
“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.”
Since almost 20% of BC families don’t have enough food to eat, School’s Out also provides access to nutritious food. Last school year, almost 207,000 snacks were provided for kids, and food was also sent home to families in need.
“They’re always able to access any sort of snack because kids engage better, more receptive, and outspoken when they have a full belly,” says Sunny.
School’s Out and School’s Out Summer programs are part of a web of year-round care that helps kids, youth, schools, families, and communities become more resilient and prepared for the future.
“It helps people have new experiences, make friends, and have closer bonds with others. Thus, it makes them genuinely happy,” Kelly says of her School’s Out experience.
You can help kids province-wide as they expand School’s Out. “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.”