Summer camps continue to serve growing number of Edmonton youth

A summer initiative aimed at giving vulnerable youth much-needed support and experience saw a surge in participation this year, as it wrapped up its fifth year in operation.

The Joint Use Summer Access program has increased its impact in Edmonton dramatically; a foundation REACH Edmonton aims to build on in the future.

Through the Joint Use initiative, Edmonton non-profits are connected with unused space at local schools over the summer months so that they are able to offer programming to at-risk youth across the city.

In the summer of 2015, more than 1,070 children and youth participated in programs utilizing summer access to schools. This was an increase of 24.9% from the previous year and a 124% increase from 2013.

In the spring of 2015, REACH Edmonton hired a project coordinator to provide year-round support to community groups.

This position builds capacity and understanding among the partners so that the program runs as smoothly as possible, and organizations say they have already seen a difference.

“This year was an amazing year,” said Lado Luala, executive director of Nyarkenyi Development Foundation, which has been running a summer program since 2010. “This year was not as stressful as other years.”

Having a consistent coordinator, who had already worked with the community groups in 2014, made a noticeable difference to the groups as he was able to connect summer camps with the supports they needed more efficiently because their needs were already understood.

“REACH is not a funder but they can help by being a connector,” said Luala. “This year, we had more support. If you know what every organization needs it’s easier. Now we can have a dialogue together.”

REACH is dedicated to helping the program continue to grow, as it offers vital academic help to students who may need it to keep up with their classmates in the fall, while also helping parents continue to work or attend classes during summer months.

"This program is instrumental in helping emerging Aboriginal, immigrant, refugee, low-income and special needs communities deliver their summer programs," said Lindsay Daniller, director of community initiatives and development at REACH Edmonton. "These programs build the confidence, capacity and academic ability of children and youth from some of Edmonton's most vulnerable communities. In giving these youth the tools they need to succeed in school and their community, we're helping to promote resilience and encourage big dreams for the future and that can make a neighbourhood a safer place to live."