Last year the City of Edmonton took over the Green Shack program from all Community Leagues. The decision was made to cut the program from full days to part days across the city, with only one exception made. Sadly, in some of our high-needs areas the program was eliminated all-together.
Over the course of 6 months I have had meetings with the City Branch Managers and Directors, who were the decision makers, to voice my concerns, present my case, and to question. I patiently heard in many of the meetings the whys, but insisted that next summer high-needs children must have this program back.
During this time I also contacted City Councillors and the Mayor by email and phone calls to draw attention to this matter. I asked them for their support by ensuring during budget time that money be allocated to provide 20 of our highest needs area in Edmonton a full day program. I explained to many our City Officials and Politicians, a program like this is vital to children in high risk situations during the summer, when the support of schools are not available to them. It is a safe place, when home may not be.
I received support from all City Councillors with the strongest support coming from Mike Nickel who presented the case during the budget meetings. I found City Branch Managers and Directors of our city to be cooperative with my efforts, even though it was a delicate situation, as I was in fact questioning
Update –What a WIN for our high-needs kids!!!! Got a couple of calls yesterday from newspapers asking me what my reaction is on the great news - what great news I asked? City Council just approved an additional $107,000 to ensure that 20 of our high-needs areas in Edmonton get their full day green shack program!!! Thrilled, excited and absolutely relieved were the words I used. Thank you to you all for your support in making this happen - 8 months of hard work just paid off. Another example that our voices can be heard and we can make a difference.
HERE LETTER I WROTE TO THE CITY COUNCILLORS AND CITY OFFICIALS
Dear Mayor Don Iveson,
As you may be aware, Edmonton's full-day Green Shack Playground Program, available to children for the past several years in community parks across the city, was cut back to a half-day program this summer. Unfortunately some areas, even lost this program entirely.
While I agree that middle class and affluent neighborhoods would be less impacted with only a half-day program, I am writing to you today regarding the decision to eliminate this program in high need areas within our city. In working with many of the high-needs schools in Edmonton over the last few years as a consultant and contractor, I know firsthand these childrens’ stories and the challenges they face every day. Like many others, I wish we could do more for them, such as providing resources and stability year round. It is truly disappointing to learn what little support there is for these children out of school.
As many Edmontonians, I was under the impression this program was cut back due to the Alberta government's Summer Temporary Employment Program (STEP) grant no longer being available. However, after meeting with Debie Anderson, director of Neighbourhoods, Parks and Community Recreation, it is my understanding that the Branch received their full budget from City Council for the year 2014, including the cost of the green shack program. The decision to only offer half day Green Shack programs to children was a planned, unilateral and purposeful decision made by Heather McRae and staff without any exceptions made. It is also my understanding the Community Services Department has now complete responsibility of the Green Shack program from our Community Leagues. The Community Leagues were asked by the Branch to contribute $1000.00 towards the program if they could. It was my understanding that most community leagues contributed, as they believe strongly in the impact this program has on children.
I am greatly concerned for our children in high need areas, that one of the FREE programs offered has been taken away without due consideration. For example, some communities did not receive any Green Shack programming, as there was a Boys & Girls Club within close proximity. Yet after making one phone call, and visiting their website, I discovered that some of the Boys and Girls’ Club locations, due to cut backs of their own, are not running full day programming. In fact, some sadly are running programs only one to two days per week. The consequences now, for these children this summer, are not only do they not have their Boys & Girls Club, they are completely without a Green Shack Playground Program.
As I’m sure you would agree, children in high need areas are in desperate need of a full-day, free program during the summer months, that will keep them safe and connected when sometimes home may not. Many of these children face challenging environments. According to their community schools, 90% are traumatized over a certain length of time by abuse, neglect, witnessing family or community violence; 30% of these kids are in the care or wards of Children Services; Approximately 8 calls are made per week, per school to Social Services by administrators to protect these kids (who’s making these calls now) and the feeder high school has a 45% drop out rate. Many of these young boys and girls are also vulnerable to exploitations by drug dealers, the sex trade and gang recruitment.
My hope is that one day in the near future, these kids are given a full-day program comparable to what they receive at school. Our high needs schools not only provide education for these children, but provide them with food, love, safety and resources. My heart breaks every June, knowing that our summer holidays instil such anxiety and despair for these kids, for they know everything stops for them for the next two months and they may be on their own.
I have spoken with Heather McRae and Debie Anderson, and the best they can do for the remainder of this summer, is a few pop up play programs in some areas. This certainly is not ideal, but I was told it was the best they could do. When I pushed a little harder for some innovative problem solving from Heather, she agreed to go back to her staff and see what else can be done. I was disappointed that a promised phone call was not made to me, and now these children in some cases never received their program or only had it available to them for a few hours a day through-out the summer.
I have been assured that 15 to 20 of our highest need areas in Edmonton will receive full day GSPP in 2015. I am writing to you today, to make sure that this does happen for these kids next year. With proper planning, some due diligence from Community, Parks and Recreation, a budget must be prepared and presented to you to allow for a full-day programming in high need areas in Edmonton. Until the day when we can come up with a better solution and program for these deserving children, this is all they have.
I look forward to hearing from you all. Together let’s make sure our high needs communities and children are looked after in 2015.
More information about the Green Shack Program is on the City of Edmonton's website