Port Moody kids come together — but apart — to paint messages of hope

Several Port Moody neighbours painted posters and hung them on a fence to brighten up the lives of those affected by the pandemic

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Between the rising daily infection toll and stories of economic doom, it can sometimes be hard to see a silver lining in the current health crisis. 

But in one corner of Port Moody, a group of children have done just that, coming together — though no closer than two metres — to spread random uplifting messages to anyone lucky enough to pass by. 

“It’s cool 2 B Distant,” read jet-black letters bursting against a green, turquoise, purple and violet rainbow.

“U R Strong,” reads another poster pinned to a fence.

The public messages calling on the community to come together — while staying apart — are the work of six neighbours aged seven to 13 years old: Lily Varga, Casey Hanson, Hannah Green, Sophie Cordos, and Gillian and Olivia Schneider.

“They just wanted to create some love, you know? Some positivity,” said Erin VanBolderen-Schneider, whose two daughters took part in the project.

The day before The Tri-City News photographed the posters, VanBolderen-Schneider said the garbage truck driver was honking the horn and waving at the kids along Forest Park Way in the Heritage Woods neighbourhood. Others passing by were impressed enough to pull over. 

“This morning, I was having my coffee on my deck. People would get out of their cars to take pictures,” said Lily Varga’s mother, Alyssa Parsons. “It’s just nice to make people smile.”

The handful of families are among thousands across the Tri-Cities trying to figure out how to occupy themselves in a new, unfamiliar reality. 

“It just kind of happened really quickly. Like it was just a small thing at first but now it's gotten really big,” said 10-year-old Gillian Schneider.

This is Gillian's last year at Aspenwood elementary school and the sting of not seeing the inside of her classroom is settling in.

“It’s kind of sad that I won’t be able to see my teacher again,” she said.

She and her sister Olivia have been filling their time catching up on TV shows, riding bikes and going on walks. But that can all get a little boring after a while, she said. So the girls have taken to doing math questions every other day just to keep busy.

“I didn't believe it at first,” said Olivia Schneider. “’Til September? If someone at the beginning of the year said, ‘Oh, we’re not going to school for four months,’ we’d be happy. But now that it’s actually happening, I’m going to miss school.”

By one estimate, there nearly a third of the world’s population, 2.5 billion people, are currently under some form of self-imposed quarantine or isolation. That’s a lot of missed milestones for a lot of children, among them, Gillian Schneider, whose grandparents won’t be making their annual trip out from Ontario for her birthday this April. 

“It’s okay. We have FaceTime, I guess. But it’s kind of a bummer, too,” she said.

But for her older sister, making the signs brought some sense of focus to their daily wanderings.

“In the summer, we have a lot of just, like, playing outside, like painting rocks, but this time I felt like there's kind of like a purpose to it,” said Olivia Schneider.

Parents on the block said they’re concerned about what happens when spring break is over, how they’re going to continue their children’s education while still trying to work. For some of them working in public service or sales, that means rewriting the rules at home. Others, like the firefighter father who remains on-call or the mother who is trying to keep her small business afloat, taking care of the kids is a complicated proposition.

In the meantime, Parsons said she and the neighbours will continue to look for any opportunity to educate.

“We’re just talking to the kids a lot about social responsibility and what we can do to protect one another, that the decisions that are being made are for the greater good,” she said, pointing to the posters across the street.

“We thought that’s a way they can take some of the anxiety and the uncertainty that they're feeling and put it into [something] positive to help the community as well.”

And the community is paying attention.

Only a couple blocks away, someone else had picked up that mantle and etched a string of messages across an entire neighbourhood’s sidewalk in chalk. 

“BE GOOD TO EACH OTHER,” reads one accompanied by a rainbow.

“THANK YOU FRONTLINE WORKERS,” reads another.

“Together we can do anything.”

Read more of our COVID-19 coverage here.

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