Brander Gardens ROCKS!

…and so do the many partners (including local faith communities) who have come together to make it possible!

    Going to school in a more affluent neighbourhood can be a tough challenge for kids who are from low income families or are new to Canada.  They watch their classmates regularly head off to Mexico for vacations.  Opportunities like music lessons or getting onto higher level sports teams can be out of reach as their families need to invest far greater energy into paying the bills and keeping food on the table; along with confronting a host of other barriers like language and cultural literacy.  The opportunities for these kids just aren’t the same.

That’s where a program like BG Rocks comes in; a grass root organization involving many of the families living in the Brander Gardens housing complex operated by Capital Region Housing Corporation (CRHC).  This program offers help, opportunity and builds community far beyond what CRHC is able to provide.  It is the community’s involvement in the program that contributes to the success.  The organization leads away from ‘Us versus Them’ thinking to one of working together in the community.

Brander Garden ROCKS offers after school programs, a music school, community gardens, community meals, Mom and Tot programs, summer programs including camping, academic programs, and adult enrichment programs (including community involvement with WECAN food basket, make tax time pay, art enrichment, providing help with English and opportunities to volunteer right in their community).

What really makes something like this succeed is the strong circle of support they have received from neighbourhood partners. There are nearly thirty collaborative partners such as local schools, community leagues and libraries that have partnered with Brander Gardens ROCKS.  Organizations like Sports Central, KidSport and the local Terwillegar Riverbend Soccer Association support nearly thirty youth each year to participate in the soccer program.  The Community league pays for the use of the Gym at the Junior High and offers space for the Mom and Tots program.  The Terwillegar Riverbend Advisory Council helps by hosting information on their website and is their fiscal partner. The financial support of REACH and the City of Edmonton, and Canada Summer Jobs make this a broad community effort!

One key partner for BG Rocks is the Riverbend United Church.  RUC has a long-term commitment to the local neighbourhood, and that brought them to the table right at the beginning.  The church was quick to open their doors, and became one of the key facilities used by kids and families in the program.  They provide a free room for teaching, which currently hosts a family literacy course.  RUC also began hosting a community meal every year, inviting the broad community including some Syrian families.  BG Rocks families are invited to help do the shopping and cook the meal with the RUC volunteers, and this shared effort makes for a wonderful and special event.  According to the coordinator Sharon Gritter, when she needs volunteers, Riverbend United Church is one of the first groups she approaches.

BG Rocks dinner painting
In the photo above: Volunteers from Riverbend United Church and youth and families from BG ROCKS together paint tiles for the national Canada 150 mosaic; which aims to win a place in the Guiness Book of World Records!

What does success look like?
‘Kids are being mentored!’  Sharon says, ‘When a kid you have been working hard with (and challenging) crosses the finish line at the end of a long race, it is really moving.’  Because of their sports programs they are seeing kids make it onto the local Junior High teams.  They get to do fun things like go camping, and go on field trips.  It strengthens and enriches the lives of the kids and families, and it connects them in a supportive community.   BG ROCKS! is a great example of what a local community can do to ensure all their neighbours have a chance to flourish!

By: Mike Van Boom, based on an interview with BG Rocks director, Sharon Gritter
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