Esquimalt Neighbourhood House Society CPNP’s Flexible Outreach Format

 Photo Credit: Unsplash User  Tara Rae

Photo Credit: Unsplash User Tara Rae

We spoke with Mary Lynn McKenna, the Executive Director of Esquimalt Neighbourhood House Society (ENH). ENH is a member of the Coalition of Neighbourhood Houses Capital Region (the Coalition), of South Vancouver Island. The Coalition is a collaboration of eight neighbourhood not-for-profit organizations that offer a wide array of services to individuals and families in their local communities.

A particular strength ENH has developed is a flexible approach to its programming space requirements; allowing it to respond efficiently to arising community needs. ENH’s CPNP post-natal programming for families with babies up to 12 months of age, is designed to be simply facilitated, on or off-site. Off-site venues are rented by the hour and/or temporary space is offered free. The facilitation of its post-natal groups does not necessarily need the group space to have specialized décor or chairs and tables for participant use. ENH’s group facilitators create a trouble-free, warm and cozy environment by simply spreading soft blankets out on the floor on top of exercise or foam mats for comfort, by tossing a few pillows and including soft toys for parents and babies to play with together. By having the facilitator, parents and babies gather by sitting together as a group on the floor, this allows ENH to create a much more relaxing learning environment for families attending to interact, learn and discuss various relevant post-natal topics, and more closely connect with other families, all while bonding with their babies. Colleen Wickenheiser, CAPC Program Consultant, has referred to the approach as “on the ground outreach”, which is true in both senses of the term.

ENH used this group facilitation style to meet localized need in the Westshore area for many years. Over the recent years as other family focused non-profit agencies permanently established themselves in the Westshore area, ENH decided to discontinue offering its post-natal services in the Westshore area as of March 31, 2018. As well and for several years, ENH has offered similar post-natal programming on-site and in room space rented by the hour from the Vic West Community Centre and the former Vic West Y, as family need prevailed. If in the future, Vic West Community Centre decides to expand services by offering their own early years services for local families, ENH would be pleased to assist in the expansion by passing along its knowledge and experience and providing its support to enable a smooth transition. Flexibility is key to this needs-responsive approach, complementing rather than competing with provision through other agencies.

ENH has established a long term collaborative arrangement with Esquimalt’s Parks and Recreation who in turn offers free space and promotion to ENH for early years programming use. Esquimalt’s Parks and Recreation currently hosts two programs facilitated by ENH; an early years group (0-5 yrs.) and a post-natal support group for new moms.

For many years, ENH has collaborated with both Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations to develop and assist in facilitating on-reserve early years programming. Over the past year, ENH assisted the Esquimalt Nation in developing and facilitating a pre/post-natal program.

The essence of ENH’s flexible approach is to be in touch with what families need and want in the communities they serve; and to be adaptable to tailor their programming to meet community needs.