Anna reflects on how we nurture Whole Families and Civic Good in Saskatoon's Westside through our contextualized summer programs.
“Are you still doing things for kids? My kids came a couple of times two years ago, and they had so much fun. What you are doing really matters to this community.” - a dad from Appleby
This summer marked the third year that we ran summer programs for kids in the Appleby apartments in the Westside of Saskatoon. Each summer has looked different in a lot of ways, but here are some similarities:
Water. Slip n slides and water balloons are always a highlight in the hot summer weather!
Running. From freeze tag to capture the flag to soccer, the kids know how to tire us out.
Laughter. I spend most of the summer laughing at their antics and their jokes. They spend a lot of time laughing at us, and for no reason at all.
Friendship. Every summer we get to welcome newcomers and watch as they make friends with other kids in our programs. We also get to watch old friendships mature and grow.
Gratitude. Every summer we are so grateful for the opportunity to spend time with our neighbourhood kids. I am so grateful for the amazing sunshine and warmth that summer brings. I am also grateful that God is here, that He loves these kids even more than I do, and that He is a God of joy and play.
This year we have continued to deepen our relationship with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). We fully integrated our programs with theirs and jointly ran programs three afternoons a week. Working alongside them was a joy and a blessing. We also tried something new - partnering with Athletes in Action to run a week of soccer camp. The amount of joy and enthusiasm our kids came out with each day made it totally worth it! Over the course of the summer we had an average of 21 kids come out each day, and we ran 28 days of fun. I definitely felt like it was my favourite summer so far.
Kids Programs are not just for kids: they build Whole Families
Why do we dedicate so much of our time and energy in the summer to running kids camps?. Here is why: our kids are the most hopeful population in our neighbourhood. They are willing to dream that their families can be whole, that they can find economic and social success in the future, and that the systems they are a part of will work for their good. We love to invest in this hope. We want to nourish it and draw encouragement from it.
We see our kids programs as a way to nurture Whole Families, one of Servant Partners’ 9 Signs of Transformation. Sadly, there are so many opportunities for the kids in our neighbourhood to make bad decisions, and to be stuck in unhealthy situations and relationships. This impacts their families. We ease some of the burden on families in the summer by providing a safe space for kids to be and opportunities for them to choose healthy activities, relationships and aspirations. Here is a reflection from our site staff Kathleen that helps us imagine the impact of our programs:
Wholesome Harm Reduction
That other boy in our building got in with the wrong crowd His mama can’t sleep at night, worrying about if he’s safe Fourteen and on the run, leaving at late hours, the police coming by to ask about him He broke into one of the neighbours’ cars and stole some stuff the other night He learned to shoplift candy at the Shell over the summer holidays Do you remember this kid we used to play with? God had other plans for you this summer, my friend. Today, you sit at our kitchen table, painting rocks, singing silly camp songs, talking about if Ronaldo is still better than MBappé. You are here. Not always getting along with each other, not using the cleanest language, often over-competitive with the younger kids. But you are here instead of there. You are filling your days with good things. You are dreaming of a future, you are safe. Your mamas and grandmas can sleep. Where might you be today, if not here?
Taking responsibility can be cool too!
“It is so important for the children in our community to have somewhere safe to go and something to do.” - a local Grandmother
One of the sweetest things that I experienced was the growth in all our kids over the summer, especially among our preteen boys. At the beginning of the summer, they were more disruptive, and would often leave if they thought the activity wasn’t ‘cool’ enough.
As the summer progressed they started to invest in this new community of theirs, –encouraging each other to participate, even in the silly songs. They started to complain less and even helped with wrangling the younger kids or handing out snacks.
As they experienced the space as safe, structured, and welcoming, they began to take responsibility for themselves and the program itself. Instead of letting their initial disruptive behaviour define them, we chose to see them as capable agents of good and watched them begin to see themselves this way as well.
Another sign of transformation we work toward is Civic Good - we believe that our communities can engage at a civic level to advocate and create a better future - beginning with taking ownership of the space you are in. We are watching these boys learn this kind of ownership–and practice influencing things for good on a small scale in our programs.
As the days get shorter and colder, as the kids return to school, I find myself hopeful.
Hopeful that what is begun in the summer can be built upon in the school year.
Hopeful that the relationships we have built with the kids will encourage them to see us as safe adults who want to invest in their lives.
Hopeful that the fun in our summer spaces makes them want to join in on the fall spaces we are creating.
Hopeful that their hope will survive, and that it might just be the catalyst for transformation for their families, their classmates at school, and someday our whole neighbourhood.