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United Way Avenues of Change

Orchestrating change on a neighbourhood scale

Children thrive when their neighbourhoods thrive. That is why our newest early childhood initiative, United Way Avenues of Change, is focusing unparalleled time, energy, and resources in specific neighbourhoods in the Lower Mainland.

Guildford West in Surrey, Coquitlam River in Tri-Cities, Strathcona (Vancouver) and Richmond City Centre are four communities where young kids and their families are struggling. United Way Avenues of Change is making a 5 year investment of up to $5 million in particular neighbourhoods where young kids are struggling. Launched in 2013, this deeply collaborative, innovative, and place-based initiative—with no precedent in BC—has one resounding objective: to see more kids ready to succeed by the time they start school.


Creating futures that sing

Every child deserves to have the best start in life. Yet, almost half of Guildford West’s, Coquitlam River’s, Strathcona’s and Richmond City Centre’s five year olds are “developmentally vulnerable” when they enter kindergarten. 43% is the vulnerability rate of Guildford West (Surrey) and Coquitlam River (Tri-Cities). In Richmond City Centre, 43% of children are deemed vulnerable. Strathcona has 52% vulnerability rate compared to the B.C. average of 33%.

Vulnerable children are at greater risk for struggling in school and this can lead to many problems in later life. By supporting children during the critical years of their early development—from birth to age 6—we’re creating futures that sing for kids in our community.


Working in concert with other change-makers

At United Way, we’ve always preferred symphonies over solos.

United Way Avenues of Change incorporates the expertise and knowledge of a wide variety of partners, agencies, and experts—because we know it takes a community working together to effect the greatest change.

Key partners include UBC’s Human Early Learning Partnership and the Social Planning and Research Council of BC. Community and local partners have so far included Children First and the Children’s Partnership—Surrey-White Rock, the City of Surrey, DIVERSEcity Community Resources Society, Fraser Health Authority, the Ministry of Children and Family Development, Options Community Services Society, School Districts 36 and 43, Simon Fraser University, Surrey Libraries, the Tri-Cities Early Childhood Development Committee, and Westcoast Family Centres.


Inviting everyone to lend a voice

Every voice is beautiful. That is why United Way embarked on an extensive community engagement process during the first phase of this project.

Known as United Way My Neighbourhood, My Future, this first phase brought together families, residents, service providers, government, schools, businesses, and other local stakeholders to collectively imagine, innovate, and create a better future for kids in each neighbourhood.

Our community engagement teams worked hard to get input particularly from parents with young kids. We believe that only by understanding parents’ struggles and hopes—for their neighbourhood and their children’s futures—can we, together, develop solutions to meet their specific needs.


Performing from the same score

The community engagement phase culminated in the development of strategic business plans for each neighbourhood. These plans serve as the master score—providing specific Action Strategies, along with timelines, milestones, and budgets, that will direct the activities in each neighbourhood.

Coquitlam River

The business plan for Coquitlam River includes four Action Strategies that are being implemented in 2015:

    • Coquitlam River Champions—volunteers who help connect families with young children to available services, foster a culture of parents supporting parents, and promote a clean and safe neighbourhood.
    • Child-Friendly Community Campaign—a campaign that brings families together for events, strengthens civic engagement, and equips parents to advocate for a truly child-friendly neighbourhood.
    • Community of Practice— A network that helps non-profit agencies, Coquitlam River Champions, public institutions and other partners share knowledge and resources, and ensure the concerns of families with young kids are heard.
    • Child Care Strategy—a strategy that involves conducting a child care needs assessment, and then developing an action plan to increase the quality and availability of child care.



The business plan for Guildford West includes four Action Strategies and one Action Initiative that are being implemented starting in 2015:

  • Early Childhood and Family Check-In: A new system of support focused on reaching families where they live to foster their child’s healthy early development
  • Support on the Go: A strategy that promotes mental health wellness among families with young children, and offers kids and parents practical tools for stress reduction.
  • Health Promotion Peer Ambassadors: Volunteers who help parents with young kids learn about healthy eating, physical activity, and other topics to promote healthy life choices.
  • Literacy Peer Ambassadors: Volunteers who share information with parents in their community about how to engage children in early literacy activities.
  • Thrive! Neighbourhood Gatherings: A series of events that will enable parents and residents to meet one another, and learn about different resources to support families with young children.


Richmond City Centre

Richmond City Centre has also joined the United  Way Avenues of Change family. Action Strategies being implemented starting in 2016 are:

  • Vertical Parenting: Many families with young children live in high-rises in the neighbourhood. Strategies will be developed to make sure that children are connecting to others.
  • Neighbourhood Family Connectors: Many families in Richmond City Centre are new immigrants who may not be connected to their community and to programs and services available to them. Neighbourhood Family Connectors are volunteers who will connect families and create a culture of parents supporting parents.


Strathcona Vancouver

The business plan for Strathcona includes two Action Strategies that are currently being implemented:

  • The Graduation Strategy: This strategy targets educational success and supports the growth, education and healthy development of children in Vancouver’s inner city. United Way of the Lower Mainland funds the focused approach for early and middle years health and
    wellness interventions that will support the abilities of children to meet developmental milestones and to be active, engaged, and healthy.
  • The Backbone Strategy: This function provides leadership and ongoing support to guiding the initiatives’ vision and strategy, supporting aligned activities, establishing shared measurement, building public will, advancing policy and mobilizing resources.


Leading in the key of C

All innovators require courage.

With United Way Avenues of Change, we are taking courageous action to combat chronic child vulnerability. This means collaborating on a deeper level, engaging the community like never before—and even changing the way we measure change.

United Way is working closely with each community and a range of experts to create an evaluation plan to measure results. A key test of our impact will be the Early Development Instrument (EDI), a population-level tool that measures child vulnerability across five developmental areas that predict adult health and well-being. EDI scores will help us determine whether an investment of this scale, in a focused location, can in fact reduce vulnerability. We believe it will.

Ultimately, creating possibilities for vulnerable children demands that we try new approaches to achieve measurably greater results. We hope you’ll join with us as we strive—with courage and conviction—to create neighbourhoods that are deeply in tune with kids and families.