REACH Edmonton

A summer initiative aimed at giving vulnerable youth much-needed support doubled in size this year, as REACH Edmonton wrapped up its fifth year as coordinator of the Joint Use Summer Access Program.

2016 was the most successful year to date for the program, which saw both the number of groups accessing schools, as well as the number of participating schools double compared to 2015.

Eighteen community groups gained access to school spaces for summer programming in 20 schools. This allowed nearly 1,300 students to access programming during critical out of school months.

“We’re always focused on reducing as many barriers as possible,” said Lindsay Daniller, director of community initiatives and strategic development at REACH Edmonton. “This year the school boards absorbed the cost of facility fees, which made the program much more accessible to community groups that have limited funds.”

Because this change removed a significant barrier to many groups’ ability to offer summer programs to their communities, eight new groups utilized the summer access program for the first time.

“We want to help these young kids,” said Sahra Hashi, executive director of the Somali Canadian Women and Children Association, which organized the first free, four-week camp in July that served Somali students. “If you support them when they are very young it can help them when they are older.”

This camp, like many others involved in the program, offered both cultural and academic supports to help students prepare for the challenges of the upcoming school year.

“We brought the children together with elders in the community who told traditional Somali stories and talked about what life was like for them in Somalia,” said Hashi. “They talked to them about their future and the many chances they have here in Canada, so they don’t take it for granted and appreciate what they have here.”

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 Indigenous, immigrant, refugee, low-income and special needs communities deliver their summer programs," said Daniller. "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, the partners help promote resilience and encourage big dreams for the future.”