After-school program gets financial boost

NANAIMO – A drop-in program for at-risk kids will expand services thanks to big corporate donation.

Codi Storch

Codi Storch

An after-school drop-in program for kids will have a bigger influence in their lives, thanks to a cheque for $20,000 from Royal Bank of Canada.

Kids 4 Kids, a Georgia Avenue Community School drop-in program, was started in 2011 to make a positive impact on Grades 6 and 7 students facing challenges from poverty, family difficulties and other issues that could send them down wrong paths in life.

On Monday afternoons children stayed after school to play soccer, hockey and basketball or learn skills, such as cooking and sewing, in the school’s gym, kitchen and multi-purpose room. The activities offered promote good nutrition and healthy eating, physical fitness and health and wellness, build self-esteem, promote positive relationships, confidence and raise awareness about anti-bullying.

“You’ll see one of the kids who made a dress, another one made some shorts and there’s a little First Nations girl, she’s about five or six maybe – we’re not even supposed to take them that young – but she made a bag she uses as a purse and she’s just ecstatic,” said Nanaimo RCMP Cpl. Sheryl Armstrong. “They’re learning Food Safe, they’re learning how to make a meal for themselves if they have to.”

Snacks provided at each session are made for the kids by the students learning to cook.

Nanaimo RCMP’s Community Policing division and school liaison officers are part of the program partnership between the Ministry of Social Development, John Howard Society, Vancouver Island Health Authority, Vancouver Island University, Ministry of Children and Family Development and the Nanaimo school district. Other than the RCMP and paid ministry staff, everyone involved in the program are volunteers.

One of the key components of the program is having adults consistently on hand to be mentors and positive role models. Guest speakers, such as the Nanaimo Clippers hockey team, are also brought in.

“[Nanaimo] Family Life came in and talked about being safe when you’re alone. It’s giving these kids tools that they wouldn’t otherwise have.”

About 20-35 students have been consistently showing up at the drop-in, which is open to students from other schools as well.

“It’s not just for Georgia Avenue kids,” Armstrong said. “It’s for everybody who wants to come.”

Misty Duifhuis, program coordinator, said children who come to the program are from families covering a wide economic and social spectrum, but Harewood has a high number of families, considered the working poor, who don’t have the financial means or resources to send their children to summer camps or provide other benefits. Some of those families have their issues, deeply troubling ones in some cases, which often translate into troubled children.

“It helps the kids to connect to adults in a positive way to make life-long changes,” Duifhuis said. “Even the simplest things, such as the consistency of that same person being there week after week can have long-term effects in that child’s emotional well-being and that transcends into everything that comes down – to their education, their home life, their jobs – everything that they want to do.”

Duifhuis said the $20,000 donation, presented June 17 from the Royal Bank of Canada After School Grants program through the RBC Foundation, will help expand the program from one to four days a week when school starts in September.

Armstrong said parents are seeing the results of Kids 4 Kids.