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United Way seeks community champions in Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam
A major charity is making an investment in a small community in Tri-Cities.
The United Way has a plan to strengthen families in the areas of Kwayhquitlum, James Park, Irvine and Coquitlam River schools catchment areas by developing neighbourhood champions and injecting $1.6 million into community projects over four years.
Projects in the area located mostly in Port Coquitlam could include anything from building playgrounds in parks or improving street lighting but will be chosen based on the the needs of of the local community.
Directing a lens on such a small area — the population in these neighbourhoods is 14,000 — is a new initiative for the non-profit social service organization but community organizer Lucie Honey-Ray says the narrow focus should make more of a difference to families living there.
"We want to develop community capacity," she said.
By building connections between families and asking them what would make their communities better, the United Way hopes to improve success for children in school and make the area a more desirable place in which to live.
The area under the microscope for this pilot program is called Coquitlam River and is made up of neighbourhoods in Port Coquitlam north of Lougheed Highway, east of Shaughnessy Street and west of Coast Meridian. It also includes the tightly-knit River Springs community in Coquitlam.
Along with a neighbourhood in Surrey, Coquitlam River was chosen based on research into child vulnerability rates and socio-economic statistics. While vulnerability rates of students entering kindergarten are high compared to other areas, the United Way also found great interest among community leaders to improve chances for children up to six years of age.
"There is a willingness here from service providers, and neighbours and citizens are willing to work on this, as well as the school district, which is a key partner," said Jennifer Young, assistant director of marketing and communications for the United Way.
Among the various objectives of the My Neighbourhood, My Future Project is to improve access to programs, build leadership capacity in the neighborhood and leverage other levels of government in providing infrastructure to make the community safer and family friendly.
If successful in the Tri-Cities and Surrey, this program could replicated elsewhere in B.C.