Get Rid of the Broken Stuff
Thoughts of Michael
I often think about how the environments we live, work, and play in have profound effects on our wellness.
Before I became a teacher I was a Program Director for Boys & Girls Clubs of Edmonton. It was a rewarding job working with underprivileged families and youth at-risk.
During my time there, I had an opportunity to take over a program that was previously operated by the City of Edmonton, called the P.R.I.D.E. Program. It wasn’t the greatest name considering it had nothing to do with gay pride, even though we welcomed all. The name was a poorly executed acronym representing Play and Recreation Increases Development and Esteem.
Soon after our acquisition, we formed a partnership with Big Brothers & Big Sisters of Edmonton and renamed the program to a more effective and simpler name, Club Connect.
The three youth centres that made up Club Connect were located in affordable housing projects through Capital Region Housing1. The families who we served were from diverse backgrounds including newly landed immigrants, single parent families and those who faced unique barriers and challenges to physical and mental wellness.
When I first walked into each of the centres, I could not help but notice how many things were broken.
Nails were literally sticking out of furniture, computers were broken, legs missing from tables. It was both sad and shocking, considering these centres were supposed to be a positive place for children and families.
Many families had travelled across the world, from cities ravaged by war, to live in peace. Relatively speaking, these new communities were more peaceful than where they had come from. However, welcoming children and families into community centres that posed risks of any danger was the complete antithesis to our mission.
We quickly worked with staff and community partners to refresh the environment, to create a welcoming space. I remember filling a truck with broken furniture and garbage. We created a more welcoming and vibrant feel by giving the centres fresh coats of paint, better furniture and a healthier atmostphere.
I begged, pushed and cajoled for foosball tables, computers that worked, games, puzzles and importantly, an internet connection! Tasty snacks were also a must.
Although the centres were primarily for youth aged 7-16, parents were welcome to drop in and socialize. Some were now able to use the computers to look for work, which was an added bonus.
It was far from perfect, but we were constantly trying to improve the lives of these children and youth. As time went on, our staff became stronger and more connected with youth and families. They helped foster a positive experience for our club members, strengthening the community.
A few great moments stood out during those few years. Every Christmas, Sears and The Tree of Hope program was able to match every child with a donor, to receive a Christmas gift.
Another fond memory was the two wheeled type. Most of the members did not have a bicycle, so I applied through a sports organization to get every child a donated bike. I wasn’t sure it would work out, until the big truck pulled up. It was a pretty great feeling.
A memory that stands out above the rest, is when I applied to an organization called Dreams Take Flight. This incredible charity works to send underprivileged or disadvantaged youth on trips of a lifetime.
I applied and was accepted to send seven children to Disneyland. The selected kids were absolutely in shock when we announced it - a pretty incredible moment! On the day of the trip, the organization gave them hats, backpacks, t-shirts, and all the food and rides they could handle. A fantastic experience for all.
By creating a healthier environment for children, and fostering positive connections amongst staff and members, I’m confident we made a difference.
You just have to start by getting rid of the broken stuff.