Almost 25 years ago a Vancouver boy was seriously assaulted during school holidays – an attack that would not have happened had he had a safe place to go instead of just wandering the streets to kill time.
The incident led to the foundation of KidSafe by The Vancouver Sun and other agencies when it became clearthat at-risk kids should not be left alone to fend for themselves when school is out.
The KidSafe Project Society is run from a small room in the basement of Queen Alexandra Elementary on East Broadway.
Rob Parry, its interim executive director, said there are many reasons for home-alone and vulnerable kids, but often it’s a result of poverty.
“We essentially help children who schools identify as vulnerable and that can look like a lot of things. The obvious is economic vulnerability where there may not be sufficient nutrition at home,” he said.
Or it could be children too young to look after themselves being left alone by parents working at minimum-wage jobs and unable able to take time off work or pay for someone to look after them.
“Then there are children who don’t have access to other children during school breaks or kids who could be experiencing conflicts at home. Our aim is to provide for those children who rely on school to keep them healthy and safe and supported so they don’t have to go without these things when school is out.”
For two weeks starting Dec. 27, KidSafe will be caring for about 350 children from ages five to 12, collecting them from different parts of the city using four yellow school buses to bring them to Queen Alexandra. They will be fed breakfast, lunch and a snack, kept active with sports and crafts, entertained and taken on field trips at no cost to their families.
KidSafe is applying to The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-A-School campaign for $10,000 to support its winter break program.
“If this program wasn’t here, a lot of kids would have their safety compromised, they would lack access to social and emotional support or proper nutrition. Here they have great meals, get to hang out with friends and get to experience great field trips.
“When a family is struggling financially and there’s lots of arguing going on, a field trip is less a priority than working out how you are going to make dinner happen,” he said.
“We consider ourselves part of the fabric of the community where there is a conspicuous divide between people who are making it and people who are struggling in a very expensive city.
“Talk to any of the community organizations; they will tell you there is more need than resources in this city. We want to get to the kids who are not being reached by other programs,” Parry said.
In a letter sent to KidSafe, a mother who does not want to be identified said she was so grateful that her son was being allowed to participate.
“The support is very valuable to us and we really need it. I’m a single mother and have no other family members who can help me take care of him while I am working. I have no car and have no one to drive him to and from the site. We truly appreciate the support.”
It’s obviously a relief for parents, but what do the children think of it? “The kids? Well just before you came one child was in the office asking how many weeks were left before we get started,” said Parry. “Another wanted to make sure we didn’t forget to put his name on the list.”
By Gerry Bellett (firstname.lastname@example.org)