UWLM “My Neighbourhood, My Future” project aims to engage new residents in rebuilding community
In the January 12 edition of the Vancouver Sun, Daphne Bramham writes about the challenges facing low-income urban families. “Many city folks don’t know or trust their neighbours. They feel isolated with few close friends and few family members nearby. Long commutes rob them of time with family and friends. And many work long hours yet still can’t stretch their paycheques much further than the families’ housing and food costs. In British Columbia, 20 per cent of children live in a poor family, and preschoolers are more than twice as likely to have poor parents as other children.”
Drawing on the longitudinal demographic studies of the Human Early Learning Project (HELP), based at UBC, and their research findings that vulnerability can be avoided if families and children have the proper supports, the United Way of the Lower Mainland (UWLM) has funded a pilot project titled My Neighbourhood, My Future, to explore how to address the vulnerabilities that make children less ready to learn at the point of entry into kindergarten and which can impact their social progress and physical health throughout life.
The UWLM has chosen the Coquitlam River neighbourhood in Port Coquitlam - an area where children have consistently been found to be more vulnerable than most children in the province - for their pilot study because of its high concentration of children (990 children in the last census, with 492 in lone-parent families and 372 who don’t speak English at home) and the eagerness of community leaders to enter into a partnership to effect change. A second pilot study will be done in the Guildford area of Surrey.
Lucie Honey-Ray, community developer for My Neighbourhood, My Future, is quoted: “It’s not about coming in and adding services and programs. It’s about asking people what they want. What would give them more time with their children? What would enhance their neighbourhood and improve their lived experience? What barriers do they face and what would they do to solve that?
The UWLM has committed to five years of funding of up to $400,000 a year for the pilot study.
Designed to address the issues from a holistic, grassroots approach, the initial phase involves identifying 100 community champions who will receive training to engage in “kitchen-table meetings” with local residents. Artists and students will be involved in helping local residents draw and describe their ideal neighbourhood. Following the first year’s consultative phase, the community will decide how to focus the financial resources available to the project. The goal is to work collaboratively as a community to enhance practical and social supports to enhance relational interaction within the neighbourhood and build a stronger network of connections and supports for families with children throughout the community.