Anna, Servant Partners staff in Saskatoon shares about nurturing hope with under-resourced kids in Appleby through an after-school program informed by felt needs around our Signs of Community Transformation: Lifelong Learning and Health for All.
Growing up in an under-resourced neighbourhood can pose many challenges - from a lack of learning supports and safe spaces to play or rest to carrying a disproportionate amount of responsibility from a young age. We see kids in Meadowgreen, the neighbourhood where the Appleby apartment complexes are located, who regularly miss the bus, are the translators of their new Canadian context for their families, and spend all winter cooped up in their 900 square feet apartments.
For months, my co-worker Kathleen and I have been dreaming of catalyzing an after-school program in our apartment complex, Appleby, where there are a diversity of newcomer and Indigenous families we've become friends and neighbours. A space for kids to learn, laugh, play, experience leadership formation, and grow in confidence.
All of these needs we heard and observed inspired us to consider what relevant program we could offer, but these sounds encapsulate the real reason we wanted to create a structured kids program - imagine with me:
*Bang, bang, bang!*
And that one.
Young ‘positive deviants’ are hungry for hope
*Knock knock knock!* Hello? Is there anyone there? Can I come in? Can I find joy and safety with you?
These are the questions the kids here in Appleby have been asking for decades. God has been shoring up their hearts and their hope for a long time.
Since I moved into Appleby in 2020, kids have been knocking on my door, asking if they could come in. When my co-workers Kathleen and Angela moved in, the same thing happened to them. We have an expression in Servant Partners that I'm sure we stole from a very wise person. The term is "positive deviant." Core to Servant Partners' strategy towards community transformation is looking for and empowering "positive deviants": people who stubbornly hold on to hope for good things in a neighbourhood where others see only bad the bad. These people deviate from the status quo of under-resourced neighbourhoods in a good way, and we believe that God is at work through them to inspire transformation for the whole community.
The kids who knock, day after day, week after week, are precisely the positive deviants we want to journey and partner with. They embody hope. The fact that they are only six years old poses some challenges, but it mostly inspires me. Jesus says we need faith like a child, and the children of Appleby could teach everyone a little something about faith.
We aren’t the only people to recognize the kids in Appleby as agents of hope, change, and community transformation. There is a history of over 20 years of young adults moving into the Appleby apartments and loving the kids. Love for these children is why other community organizations - like Mennonite Central Committee - have come to Meadowgreen. Even though the kids have changed - some have grown up, others have moved away - the desire for hope has lingered over the years.
Lifelong Learning: “Look at that! You figured it out!”
A conversation with Eryn, an Indigenous 10-year-old who has switched schools twice this year, struggling to experience belonging:
“I can’t do math” “Why don’t we try?” *Tries, and with some help starts to understand.* “Look at that! You figured it out!” “Yeah, I guess I’m good at math.”
After two summers of successful kids programming, we wanted to expand our program to run all year. So, after several months of listening to our neighbours inform us of the needs in the community, we began this January.
On Wednesdays, we are inside working towards one of our 9 Signs of Transformation, Lifelong Learning - improving accessibility to life-enhancing education. For our kids, it looks like engaging in homework, reading together, developing a character for creative writing, and solving random math problems together. These are my favourite two hours of the week. Watching kids who are probably falling behind because of the lack of appropriate support at school suddenly understand a math concept with a bit of intentional one-on-one engagement brings me so much joy.
We try to ask each child what their favourite part of the program was each day. For example, on Mae’s first day, she said she was doing her math because “all of a sudden, I got excited for no reason!!”. She realized that she could understand. She was intelligent and capable, and curious.
These are the moments I love - watching kids rewrite the narratives they have been told about themselves as they grow in courage and self-esteem.
Health for All - Saskatchewan Winter-style!
But we don’t just stay inside: the other banging sound we regularly hear is kids trying to play soccer in our apartment hallways, looking to connect with other kids and release their energy. So on Fridays, we focus on another of our 9 Signs of Transformation, Health for All - addressing the physical well-being of individuals and communities. Even if it’s -30C with a bitter wind, we go outside and learn how to enjoy being active in Saskatchewan's winter together.As we begin, we hold all our programming and plans loosely, maintaining a listening posture, willing to pivot if different felt needs arise or something else might work better.
One time, Kathleen and I were outside 20 minutes early, and before we had even started, my face was frozen. But then, one mom brought her son outside. With one kid, we began carving chunks out of the packed snow to throw at each other, laughing so hard I couldn’t breathe (and it wasn’t because the air was too cold). More kids came, and right away, came up with their own game to build towers and try to knock the other one down by throwing snow chunks. Even more, kids came, and we played the most aptly named game of freeze tag ever. By the time our hour was up, no one wanted to go home. They were having too much fun!
A conversation with Mae, a young girl who does not have many safe spaces to express and work through all her emotions:
“AAAAAGGGH!” *Throws mitts on the ground.* “Hey, are you alright?” “No! I don’t want to play anymore!” “Why don’t we put your mitts on?” “No! My hands are too cold!” “Here is a trick-when your fingers get cold, curl them into your palms inside your mitts.” “How?-Oh! I get it! I’m ready to play now!”
As we begin, we are holding all our programming and plans loosely, continuing to maintain a listening posture, willing to pivot if different felt needs arise or if something else might work better. But I love it already! I see kids shift their narrative around their intelligence and capabilities and laugh with them as they discover wonder, joy, and frozen noses despite the gloominess of winter. Starting to co-create alongside them safe spaces to be kids in our neighbourhood - this is what I love.
And maybe, just maybe, they are finding as much hope and joy in it as I am.
Names have been changed for privacy.