“Come in, we’re awesome.”
Tim Gibson, executive director of the Shuswap Children’s Association (SCA), laughs as he describes the words on the rug at the entrance to the organization’s facilities on Shuswap Street in Salmon Arm.
He is clearly proud and appreciative of the staff he works with, their stated goal to “help children and their families to play, grow and thrive.” SCA, which is a non-profit serving kids from birth to age 19, provides family-centred programs, services and resources focusing on children’s developmental and support needs.
As several staff members gather around a table, having agreed to talk about their services, some themes emerge.
From food to clothing to housing, it’s getting more difficult for many families in the Shuswap to make ends meet. And there are disparities.
While one child might have an overripe mushy banana for a snack, another might have a five-course selection in their lunch bag. While one might not have adequate winter clothing for playing outside, another might have two pairs of snow pants, one for the morning and one for the afternoon. Families struggling economically appear to be in the majority.
Food prices are making healthy food choices more unattainable.
Those schools and daycares able to provide snacks or meals can make a big difference in a child’s day.
“What I hear with our play group is that families have to pick and choose when they come into town because gas is a big issue,” said Christine Ondang, with Child Care Resource & Referral, referring to people who live farther from Salmon Arm, even Canoe.
SCA offers more than a dozen programs and services for a variety of ages, several of them free, serving an area which includes Sorrento to Revelstoke, Enderby, Blind Bay, Sicamous and Malakwa.
Gibson explains there is no funding provided for food, clothing or gas.
He explained not all families receive funding for developmental delays or support needs their child may be experiencing.
“If they have a diagnosis, they can use funding for programs, depending on the diagnosis. But not all diagnoses come with funding. But they can’t use it for gas, they can’t use it for food. They can’t use it for living expenses, just therapy services. So it’s only for certain diagnoses,” Gibson said.
“Autism comes with individualized funding they can use for therapy services. And some materials, depending on what it is. That’s it.”
The isolation of the pandemic has also been hard, particularly on teens’ mental health, Tracey Morland said.
“And they’ve missed out on some developmental milestones too. The 14 year olds haven’t had work experiences or summer jobs. This stuff adds up…”
The association created the FLY program, Friends & Leisure Youth program, for kids eight to 18 because the Loft program has such a long wait list. FLY helps kids work on social skills, learn new activities, get out in the community and stay active.
Young people who have support needs don’t necessarily get to participate in community sports, Gibson pointed out.
Making programs cost less is what SCA is working on. Because it has bills to pay, it has to generate funding to support such programs.
Here’s where the public comes in.
SCA is constantly doing fundraisers as it’s a charity, so it can take donations and provide donations receipts.
Currently the association is selling campfire sticks to raise money for FLY. It’s also doing a ‘sponsor a camper’ campaign as it’s holding a weekend camp for kids with support needs in September. It puts on film festivals and a number of community events such as Story Time in the Park, a partnership with the library. Once again it plans to hold a Summer Bash in Blackburn Park with about 600 people expected.
“It is a free event for families, so any kind of donation to the agency helps all this programming we do,” said Ondang.
SCA sells Askew’s cards at cost to the public and then gets a seven per cent reimbursement from Askew’s.
“All the donations, all the fundraising, all the grants we write – it’s all about community building and providing services to the community,” Gibson emphasized.
The association is located at 240 Shuswap St. NE, phone number 250-833-0164.
Kim Sinclair, executive director of Aspiral Youth Partners Association, sees issues similar to those experienced by SCA.
The mandate of his organization is to work with young people to find supports and resources to build success in their lives.
A lot of the work they do is connected with the B.C. Ministry of Children and Family Development, he said, working with young people who are struggling for a variety of reasons: family circumstances, trauma, mental health issues and more.
“Our job is to work with them to help them find a stable connection in home, community and school as possible.”
Some good news, he said, is that the B.C. government plans to enact legislation that will support young people better, beyond the adult-youth agreement, with more financial and other support when they turn 19 and age out of eligibility.
Housing can be a big issue for people, much moreso than in the past.
But it’s not the biggest concern.
“The biggest one we’re struggling with right now is mental health.”
Sinclair said the association’s work is always about making connections, building relationships, helping people look at what they want and what strategies are going to help them to get there.
Asked what the most important message he’d like to convey to the public is, he replied:
“Look around to the people that are within your sphere and connect. To re-establish those personal relationships and be there to support people… ‘Hey how you doing, you want to go for a coffee, you want to go for a walk?’ It’s those human-to- human connections that are really the heartbeat of our mental well-being.”
This is the third story in a bi-weekly series on poverty, its effects and the services available. It is in conjunction with a campaign by the City of Salmon Arm and its Social Impact Advisory Committee to address poverty and help ensure residents know where to find resources.
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