More than 100 Chilliwack schoolchildren received vouchers for YMCA programs last week as part of a pilot program meant to remove barriers to physical education and play.
Chilliwack YMCA general manager Sheri Josephson handed YMCA Strong Kids Play Card to elementary and middle school students at 10 different local schools. The cards are good for a three-month YMCA membership or $100 towards a YMCA camp.
The children were selected by school principals and faced specific barriers- sometimes, but not always, financial-in pursuit of play and exercise.
Josephson said the aim is to provide children the motivation and opportunity to access programs to get them moving, having fun and connecting with others.
"We want to make sure we're taking action to make sure kids are active, especially those kids who face barriers," she told the Times.
Financial reasons are one main obstacle for many children, especially on the north side of Chilliwack, where the bulk of the cards were handed out. But another barrier is social isolation, Josephson said.
"Sometimes it's just 'I don't feel connected. Nobody's going to know my name. I don't know how to do it,' she said. "Sometimes it's just providing that door opening so they can step through."
While the cards are good for three months membership, the YMCA hopes the initiative has a longer effect. Josephson hopes the initial connection will give recipients a foot in the door and allow the YMCA to connect with whole families. The cards are part of a larger YMCA fundraising campaign that aims to raise $650,000 for financial assistance to its programs. That means if finances are the barrier in question, there is assistance to ensure that the cost of a longer membership doesn't deter a child or a family from accessing the YMCA and its programs once the three-month pass ends.
The end goal is to educate families on how to live healthier, more active, lifestyles, Josephson said.
"The three months allows us to start some habit-forming behaviour," she said. "We can talk to the parent, we can talk to them about how else they can be active."
Like Josephson, Central elementary school principal Jim Edgcombe spoke about the fact that children today may have a reduced life expectancy thanks to both a more sedentary lifestyle and less-than-healthy diet.
Hence the importance of improving access to programs like those offered at the YMCA.
"That connection at an early age translates to a connection to the community at a later age," Edgcombe said. "It helps keep kids involved.
"The community needs to collectively get together and help to raise children and I think this is a really great partnership for that."
Edgcombe and Josephson handed out 10 cards Friday-one to each class.
"You look at who can use it, who has the temperament and might just be missing the opportunity at this point," Edgcombe said. "We wanted to really be intentional and make sure the opportunities existed for kids right from the earliest level."