At-risk youth programs given funding boost

GUILDFORD – When the final bell rings at Mountainview Montessori Elementary School, Aaron Lam packs his backpack but doesn’t go home.

Instead, Lam and his mother Cindy walk over to Guildford Recreation Centre so Aaron can join his friends in the MYzone program.

A provincial grant worth $16,000 went to fund the MYzone and I AM Game programs in Guildford to help prevent youth involvement in crime. Funding for the programs come from civil forfeiture proceeds.

The after-school programs run for several hours for children ages eight to 12, and are now available at six recreation centres across Surrey.

Lam, a Grade 6 student, has been part of the program since it came into existence two years ago. He enjoys his time spent at the program and wishes that it didn’t have to end.

“(I’ll stay) until I can’t come anymore because of the age limit,” Lam said.

Prior to joining MYzone, Lam was distracted by a screen and could be found sitting in front of a computer after school.

“I was just at home playing video games. You get to interact with people and you make new friends,” Lam said.

Daljit Gill-Badesha, Surrey’s middle childhood manager, said the funding will allow the city to better connect children in financial need with opportunities to participate in recreation activities, with a specific focus on youth from eight to 18.

“Sometimes for at-risk youth there’s limited opportunity for them to participate in activities, especially recreation and sport activities, because they may not fit into just general mainstream programs,” she said. “Whether it’s a variety of behavior issues, or they maybe just haven’t had exposure to learning how to play a certain sport, so there’s sometimes a hesitancy to start.”

She went on to say children begin to selfselect themselves out of recreational programs for a variety of reasons, such as transportation and economic barriers.

She noted that if children can be kept involved in physical activities, the benefits reach into every part of their life.

“Whether that’s from physical health and obesity, whether we look at it from a crime prevention and crime reduction aspect, for them to develop social and emotional skills, friendships with peers and as well, academic success is clearly linked with doing active activities outside of school,” she said. “So there isn’t any one arena of a child or youth’s life that isn’t affected by good connection to communities and recreation.”

The Lam’s are a single-income family and the program costs $40 per year. This means that Aaron is still able to participate in other extra-curricular activities like tae kwon do and swimming.

Cindy Lam is an advocate of MYzone and believes that it is making a difference on her son’s social and educational development.

“It’s a good place to go after school where the kids can learn something,” she said.

with files from Amy Reid