Park programs help community pop in South Vancouver

By design, parks are “bumping spaces” – a place to bump into your neighbours, and make connections that build community. But sometimes that bumping needs a little nudge.

Young mom Han loves to spend time with her daughter Amy at their local South Vancouver park. Together, they take part in a pop-up program, designed for children under six.

They play outside, sing songs, make arts and crafts, learn about different neighbourhood resources, and get to know the other families who live in the area.

It’s an easy and inclusive way to connect with the place they call home.

Supportive diversity, connecting community

South Vancouver is an incredibly diverse, multicultural community. Approximately 80 per cent of the population is a visible minority. Many are immigrants and many do not speak English at home.

Three children, a boy and two girls, hold hands and smile at the camera.

Children play together at a South Vancouver pop-up park program.

This can make language a barrier when accessing local resources.

“You also see many multi-generational families,” says Zahra Esmail, Executive Director of South Vancouver Neighbourhood House. “Children, parents and grandparents all living under the same roof can lead to great strengths, as well as its own set of limitations and challenges.”

Zahra knows that for families with multiple children, or for grandparents looking after grandchildren, transportation and can add another barrier to taking part in programs – like those centered on early childhood education.

A group of parents and caretakers sit with children listening to a story in a park.

Story time at the pop-up park program.

She says it’s important to ask: “Where are our families? What do they need? And how can we bring services to them?”

A pop-up idea

It’s one of the questions she regularly asks, both at the Neighbourhood House and through her work with the South Vancouver Early Years Table a coalition of South Vancouver-based service organizations invested in early childhood success.

Five women stand next to each other a smile at the camera.

Zahra and her team at the pop-up program.

A co-chair of the Table, she and her partners develop and implement initiatives and programs that specifically address the need for early childhood programs in their community.

“Research shows that when children in South Vancouver start kindergarten, they are not at the same level as other kids in the city,” say Zahra. “We’re working together to change this – to ensure children have better school readiness, increased social skills, and are supported in their mental and physical development.”

They also look at ways of bringing services to families in their own neighbourhoods, instead of expecting families to come to them.

A group of parents and children in a park.

Parents and caretakers enjoy the pop-up program.

“Our work embraces the philosophy of being placed-based and meeting communities where they are,” says Zahra.

Hence, a pop-up park program for families.

Partnering on success

For Zahra, one of the greatest outcomes of this program is the collaborative approach it takes to community building.

Two omen in a park. One of them holds a baby.

Zahra speaks with a local parent at the pop-up program.

“The whole project is centered on collaboration,” she says. “It’s not just one neighbourhood organization running the show, it’s all of us – South Vancouver Family Place, Pacific Immigrant Resources Society, Vancouver Public Library, Vancouver Coastal Health, Westcoast Child Care Resource Centre, Vancouver School Board and South Vancouver Neighbourhood House – working together.”

For Zahra, breaking down silos allows organizations to fully wrap themselves around community, supporting and caring for all members.

Supporting inclusive community building

United Way provided funding for the pop-up park programs through Success by 6. This provincial partnership aims to engage citizens in building family-friendly communities.

“United Way recognized this unique, collaborative model of approaching early childhood programming,” says Zahra.

It also strongly fits with United Way’s mandate of collaborating with networks of organizations to build solutions for local, unignorable issues, including child vulnerability.

Creating long-term relationships

For Han, the benefits of working together and collaboration are on display every day at the pop-up park program.

“I think kids [work together] when they are playing outside,” she says. “Since they play in the same playground, they build connections to each other and develop teamwork.”

A women and her child smile at the camera.

Amy and Han.

She also love the opportunities to make friends with the other parents and caretakers in her neighbourhood.

“They are all very nice parents, and I think that’s the great thing of this program. It turns neighbours to community.”

It’s local love in action, one South Vancouver park at a time.

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