Spread out around the playground at Lena Shaw Elementary in North Surrey, a large group of children climb equipment and socialize with friends on the swing set.
“Who wants to be the energizer?” asks Suki Chhoeun, a program manager with Red Fox Healthy Living Society.
“Can you do it louder this time? We need lots of energy, is that cool? I couldn’t hear you last time so you need to be louder this time.”
Chhoeun is leading a group of youth mentors as they get ready to coordinate a cluster of kids in a summer camp run by YMCA of Greater Vancouver. The goal is the get the young participants excited about getting physically fit.
Within minutes, the group assembles in a large circle on the field and begins to organize a game of tag.
Before explaining the rules of the game, a young leader from Red Fox speaks to the children about the importance of respect and to recognize the traditional First Nations territory they are playing on and to give thanks.
Once the rules are explained, the game begins and the kids are off wildly chasing each other around the field.
The youth mentors from Red Fox are part of a program designed to give elementary school-age youth active play programs to keep fit and healthy, while at the same time, offering teens employment, life skills training and leadership experience through work and mentorship opportunities.
By partnering with YMCA camps for the summer, the youth leaders gain valuable mentoring skills they can use with students throughout the year at various Surrey schools.
The program, which focuses on inner-city schools, has been running in various communities throughout the Lower Mainland and in Surrey since 2015, involving as many as 15,000 students across Metro Vancouver.
Although targeted at aboriginal youth, the program is open to all students throughout the district.
For youth leaders Bob Muskego and Violet Nelson, the program has helped them gain confidence and set goals for the future.
“I was really shy before I joined Red Fox,” said Muskego, 19, who is finishing his Grade 12 at City Central Learning Centre this fall. “I never really had programs like this when I was in school, so I feel like I’m giving these kids something more than I had, and now I would like to go to college as well.”
For Nelson, it was a teacher at Frank Hurt Secondary who recommended the program to the quiet teen.
“I didn’t talk to people,” said Nelson, 16, of her confidence level before she became involved. “I would just stand off to the side, and now I’m feeling much more comfortable and the kids are actually coming up to me to ask me questions.”
She plans to become a paramedic after graduation.
For Chhoeun, the program uses play and mentorship to give many aboriginal youth a belief in themselves.
“The key is to put our youth in a mentorship role and have the confidence to believe they can make a difference in society and that they are valued,” she said.
For more information, go to redfoxsociety.org