Families build connections and community with United Way

Local initiatives take aim at social isolation

When it comes to building healthy communities, United Way of the Lower Mainland knows engaging local families is key.

Just ask Clayton Heights resident Jen Sutherland.

“I was introduced to United Way when they were seeking stewards for their Little Libraries. I have three young kids who love books and my youngest wanted to be in charge of one,” Sutherland says.

Little Libraries have popped up in communities around the Lower Mainland, and do so much more than add neighbourhood character. They promote literacy, foster connections between neighbours and even promote a sense of community safety and ownership.

All are key reasons the United Way supported the Clayton Heights initiative, and a pancake breakfast the community hosted to launch their Little Libraries – instead of a financial donation, people brought books. “We had thousands of books donated, and had a scavenger hunt to find all the Little Libraries,” Sutherland says.

Supporting these resident-initiative is just one way United Way of the Lower Mainland is marking its 90th anniversary by doing things a little differently.

The infinite potential of families helping families

Why engage in these community-focused projects?

With long commutes, increased density, saturated schedules and the pull of digital devices, social isolation is on the rise, especially in the suburbs. The impacts are more serious than feeling a little lonely. Studies show social isolation can be as harmful as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

Through its grassroots Hi Neighbour initiative, United Way of the Lower Mainland works with communities where residents identify isolation as a concern, exploring what they like about their neighbourhood, changes they’d like to see and the challenges to achieving them, Kim Winchell, Director, Social Impact for United Way of the Lower Mainland.

Families – whether parents with small children or grandparents with empty nests – all have a role to play.

“It’s about creating opportunities for people to engage. It really just depends on what’s happening in a neighbourhood and what residents feel drives that social isolation,” Winchell says. “We’re not replacing the need for programs, but we know that programs alone can’t create a welcoming, inclusive community.”

Movie magic for the community

In Clayton Heights, the Little Libraries were just the start. Understanding the value of community ownership, the United Way is facilitating and supporting residents’ own ideas to connect with other families.

Building on a popular event in her own home – movie night – Sutherland suggested pop-up community movie events. With support from United Way’s Local Love Fund in her neighbourhood, she purchased a blow-up screen and hosted more than a dozen movie nights at local gardens or greenspaces – casual, drop-in-if-you-have-time opportunities for neighbours to meet, visit and relax under the summer stars.

“It was a lot of fun. It’s cool to see people come back and offer to help. People have to have that spark, but as soon as someone initiates, a light turns on. This is the fun thing about something like this, you wake people up about and the dots connect,” Sutherland says.

“I want to create childhood memories that stick, and having the neighbourhood now is one,” Sutherland says.

Building on its successes, Clayton Heights hosted its second United Way pancake breakfast on Family Day, and plans are underway for a block party later this year.

United Way’s Hi Neighbour initiative is active in eight neighbourhoods across the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley. To learn more, visit uwlm.ca/hineighbour today.

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United Way has Hi Neighbour initiatives in eight neighbourhoods across the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley, including the Cedar Valley area of Mission. Mission residents organized a “repair cafe” in November, with another planned in March.

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