Building resilient kids through Summer Access Program

Many of us have cherished memories of our time spent at summer camps. On a recent visit to Spruce Avenue School, Joint Use Summer Access Program Support Coordinator Madeleine Smith's memories drifted back. "I recall the many-coloured homemade candles made in the school's playground sandbox, the scent of freshly baked cookies coming from the kitchen classroom and let's not forget all the new skills, games and friends that were to be made," said Smith. "Even today I get a big childhood smile and feeling of pride when I think of those times." REACH Edmonton has recognized that working to ensure that summer camp experiences for youth are available is consistent with its aim to address the root causes of crime while enhancing community safety. Through a partnership with the City of Edmonton, Conseil Scolaire-Centre Nord, Edmonton Catholic School District and Edmonton Public School Board these organizations are working hard to develop affordable summer access to school facilities for youth programs delivered by emerging Aboriginal, immigrant, refugee and special needs groups. Last May, many Edmontonians and local politicians had the opportunity to hear Detective Chief Superintendent John Carnochan - co-founder of the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit - speak at a number of events leading up to REACH's AGM and Showcase Celebration. His work in Scotland contributed to sustainable reductions in violence within the Glasgow, Strathclyde region. Carnochan acknowledged how preventative solutions that focus on human and social development can reduce the risk factors that lead to crime. In particular, he spoke passionately about how healthy childhood development is essential. "The most important time in our lives is when we are young," he said. "This is when we learn all the skills that allow us to make good decisions about ourselves, judge, risk and live our lives well, being as good as we can be." Through the Joint Use Summer Access Program, youths from a number of immigrant, refugee and Aboriginal communities are given the opportunity to participate in summer programs with low or no fees, that are delivered in a safe, school environment located in their neighbourhoods or near their communities. Each day the youth participate in numerous activities that focus on recreational, cultural/language, leadership and academic/learning that support their healthy social, emotional and cognitive development. "I sat with a group of thirty-five Sudanese children aged from six to twelve who quietly and attentively listened to each other tell stories about their families and cultural practices," said Smith. "Story sharing and other cooperative activites among the youth and their peers help them all to value their experiences so they feel supported in forming positive racial and ethnic identities." While summer programming is important for all children and youth, it takes on a different level of significance for immigrant groups as these youth have the challenge of integrating into two worlds - the culture and identity of their country of origin and the Canadian context that surrounds them. Many youths will encounter a variety of economic and social barriers, including racism. Recently Cheryl Currie, a University of Lethbridge assistant professor of public health found after studying a sample of 400 Aboriginal people in Edmonton that those who experience racism over time are more likely to suffer from addictions and both mental and physical health problems. John Carnochan found in his studies that it is especially important for young children to be exposed to positive influences and environments if they are otherwise exposed to negative ones. "I asked a little girl what her biggest hope for her time at the summer program was and she said 'snacks!' You could say that her summer dream was very basic, reflecting the reality of her life," said Smith. "I also spoke with a mother who had three children in one of the programs; she felt it was a wish for her that her daughters and son would have had to stay home and they would have 'too much of doing nothing.' Her words echo what other parents fear most - too much unorganized time for youths can be a recipe for disaster." As Carnochan said at REACH's AGM earlier this year, "There is no silver bullet but we can become better as a society. It's complicated but not complex. They early years in a person's life are crucial." The Joint Use Summer Access Progam builds on those wise words one lovely summer day at a time.