Desire to Help Brings Edgemont Community Together
Three years ago the principal of the local elementary school in Edgemont came to the community association with a problem. Kids were arriving at school hungry and it was impacting their ability to focus and learn. Edgemont Community Association member Barb Elms says a desire to help led to a partnership with Calgary Housing Company (CHC) that is improving lives and continuing to grow.
“We wanted to do something and it had to have the greatest impact and reach the most children possible,” says Elms. “Too many kids were going to class hungry and we felt it was something we could help address.”
Elms worked with CHC and Calgary Neighbourhoods to create a breakfast club for hungry students. CHC, which manages more than 80 provincially-owned community housing units in Edgemont, hosts the breakfast club in a resource centre within the community. Tenant demographics in Edgemont include newcomers to Canada, single parent families and people living with a disability.
The club offers breakfast to children each Wednesday from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m.
“Partnering with CHC reduced the stigma of the program with participants and led to greater participation. Fewer kids would come when it was being offered through the school,” Elms says.
Now running for three years, an average of about 40 students participate each week.
“What is happening in Edgemont is definitely a shining example of what can be accomplished through community association support,” says CHC Tenant Liaison Suzanne White. “The work is breaking down negative stereotypes about affordable housing, bringing the community together and providing tenants with greater connectivity to the community.”
Employees of a local bank have jumped on board, making breakfast and meeting tenants once a month. Donations also come in from a variety of other local businesses. Elms says it was clear a few months into the program that is was successful because mothers started coming with their children.
As the breakfast club grew, more parents started to arrive with their children. It presented an opportunity to learn more about what other challenges tenants were having adjusting to a new community and, in some cases, a new country.
“We started to learn more about the needs people had,” she says. “It was very clear that trained educators offering English tutoring in addition to what they are learning at school would be a huge value.”
A reading group was added. As many as 10 children now meet with two or three tutors every Wednesday from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Volunteers, including a professional librarian and lawyer, help children learn to read.
More recently, the community association created a lending library to increase book sharing among tenants and other neighbours. A space for tenants to garden was also created two years ago growing lettuce, tomato, zucchini and other vegetables.
Elms says they continue to look for other ways to expand, seeking opportunities to provide structured play programs in 2017 and pursuing funds for mental health counselling for those in need.
“It has been very satisfying,” says Elms. “We are able to watch children grow, gain confidence and reach their potential.”