Pacifica youth program goes beyond housing

Saanich housing complex's youth groups bring neighbourhood children together

Grace Garraway

Grace Garraway

On a dark autumn evening, sisters Taylor and Jailyn Rust are at their silliest, and they’re not alone. They’re among a group of seven girls dancing, jumping, singing, posing and just plain goofing around in the living room of an Alderbrae townhouse unit on Alder Avenue.

The girls are there to partake as members of Alderbrae’s Virtues Youth Group, a weekly drop-in program based on the Virtues Project and offered to tenants of Pacifica Family Housing complexes aged 4 to 12.

“After an hour or so we let the group relax and have fun but the class revolves around a few activities to start with,” said Alderbrae instructor Catherine Cullen.

Every Monday night, sisters Taylor and Jailyn meet with other youths in the suite. Alderbrae is the only Pacifica Virtues Group of the five which uses an actual housing unit. The other complexes have multi-purpose rooms.

Each meeting has games, activities, snacks and some time to free play, all planned around a handful of the 52 virtues outlined in the Virtues Project. The children are asked and encouraged to point out which virtues they recognize.

“It focuses most on the basic virtues of respect, generosity and patience, and the groups help the children make friendships they may not have otherwise made,” said Pacifica’s Laurie Chesworth, who works with Virtues Group facilitators and attends field trips. “It makes the complexes better places to live.”

“Everyone learns to co-operate, to share, to respect other people’s feelings, and hopefully to make them happy,” Chesworth said. “We have had a lot of feedback that it works to increase their self-esteem and be positive members of their complexes.”

Field trips include outings to Halliburton Farm, where the children learn about gardening and growing. There’s also day trips to Camp Thunderbird in the summer, where they partake in archery, kayaking, canoeing and orienteering.

“Feedback from parents is that they love the fact it’s on site and it’s free, as a lot of people have limited resources,” Cheswoth said. “We’re also told that some of the children aren’t participating in any other organized activities or sports.”

About 75 to 100 kids will use the program each season. Fundraising comes from grants and donations, and expansion is based on how much is raised. Pacifica has run the Virtues Youth Group since 2007.

“It’s nice to go beyond just providing housing, it’s nice to be able to provide programs, and to support the families in the subsidized housing.”