KidSafe provides children at Vancouver schools with the food security, trauma-informed care, educational programming, and safety that they need and deserve but might otherwise lack access to. We spoke with KidSafe’s Director of Programs Katie Manning to find out more about them.
Describe your charity/non-profit/volunteer work in a few sentences.
At KidSafe, our mission is to provide a safe, nurturing environment for children who need it most. Our vision is a city where all children feel safe, seen, and have a place to thrive. We operate in seven Vancouver School Board sites during winter, spring, and summer breaks and after school. All participants who attend our programs are referred to as a child in need of a safe space to be. We provide these children with the food security, trauma-informed care, educational programming, and safety that they need and deserve but might otherwise lack access to.
What problem does it aim to solve?
The reality for vulnerable children and youth in Vancouver is that school breaks can be a heightened time of uncertainty, particularly surrounding food security, adult supervision, and overall safety. Since we were founded in 1993, we have been filling the gap that exists in care when schools close. KidSafe provides vulnerable children access to a safe space where they can play, learn, eat, and just be kids when school is not in session.
When did you start/join it?
Over five years ago, I started my journey with KidSafe as a volunteer. I then joined the seasonal staff team, where my primary responsibility was running the Young Leaders program. This program spanned eight weeks and aimed to connect young individuals with their peers and community while supporting them to develop critical life skills. KidSafe’s main focus is providing children with tools they might not typically have access to, and it is during their youth that they learn to utilize these tools effectively.
After my role as a seasonal staff member, I joined the KidSafe office team as a Program Coordinator. Eventually, I took on the position of Manager of Registrations and Referrals, where I oversaw the intake process for children. Currently, I hold the position of Director of Programs, where I oversee our incredible office team.
What made you want to get involved?
I discovered the KidSafe Project through my network and knew it was an organization I wanted to get involved with. My first volunteer experience was as a nanny here in Vancouver, supporting a young single mother, her 6-year-old child and her newborn baby. This experience solidified my passion for working directly within the community to help children and families in need. Throughout my career, I have worked in various sectors, both for-profit and nonprofit, in both Canada and the US, but I always found myself gravitating back towards childcare.
While working with the KidSafe office team a few years ago, I was processing referrals for the upcoming break program when I realized that one of the participants was the same newborn baby I had volunteered to nanny for all those years ago. They are now graduating high school and doing well. It was a full-circle moment that reaffirmed how special KidSafe is to me.
KidSafe is a locally run and operated program that offers free, accessible, and evidence-based programming to Vancouver’s most vulnerable children. It is not a one-stop-shop, after-school program, or summer camp; with 75% of the children we serve returning from previous programs, we support them throughout their critical development years. Despite being a small non-profit, our programs have the potential to do so much for so many.
What was the situation like when you started?
For the first 25 years, KidSafe was essentially operating as a fundraising house; our seasonal staff were all contracted by a third-party organization, and our office was situated in a basement classroom of an old school. Realizing the need to enhance our operations and impact, KidSafe made a pivotal decision to bring its programming in-house. We revamped our staffing approach, introduced trauma-informed programming, and refined our existing initiatives.
However, just as we were gaining momentum on this new chapter, the unexpected happened—the Covid-19 pandemic arrived. Despite the uncertainties and challenges that came with the pandemic, KidSafe’s services were recognized as an essential need. We quickly adapted, focusing on safety planning for childcare and food security support for the families we serve. While still in the process of expanding our initiatives, we found ourselves as one of the few organizations providing pandemic programming at that time.
Throughout the pandemic, KidSafe became looked to for leadership as we successfully pioneered safe, in-person programs without a single covid outbreak on site. KidSafe responded to children in need across the city by opening 17 in-person emergency sites. It was non-negotiable to keep our doors open, as the families we serve lacked suitable conditions or care for the children to be left in 24/7. This achievement was a testament to the commitment of our team and the measures we implemented to prioritize the safety and well-being of the children and staff under our care.
How has it changed since?
Over the past few years, KidSafe has been actively engaged in implementing new structures and systems to further enhance its impact. In an effort to ensure that KidSafe remains relevant and impactful for the next three decades, we have initiated a comprehensive community audit. This involves examining and evaluating what KidSafe currently represents and how it can evolve to meet the changing needs of our community in the coming years. By conducting this audit, we are proactively shaping the future of KidSafe, taking into account the aspirations and requirements of those we serve. This is especially exciting as we approach our 30-year anniversary this December!
What more needs to be done?
Vancouver’s reputation as one of the world’s top cities may overshadow the harsh reality faced by those living in poverty. It is crucial not to overlook these individuals and their reality. By carefully planning for the future and providing support to the most affected, we can create a better outcome for everyone. Advocacy, awareness, community connection, and effective planning are all necessary.
For many, Kidsafe is a lifeline. Although we cannot eliminate poverty entirely, we can make a significant impact on the lives of children by giving them access to a support network, enriching experiences, and an expanded community that they would otherwise miss out on. We view these opportunities as valuable tools in their personal growth, with the ultimate goal of equipping them with the skills they need to make informed decisions in their unique life journeys. The potential for positive change is immense if we receive the necessary support.
It is essential for these children to understand that there is nothing wrong with them. Regardless of their background or the uncertainties they face, they have so much potential. I want every child who walks through KidSafe’s doors to understand that they have a unique superpower.
How can our readers help?
At KidSafe, as a small grassroots organization, we rely on the generosity of our community to operate our critical programs. Donations are what keep our doors open and help ensure we are able to show up for the children and youth who need us most. Another impactful way to support KidSafe is hosting a third-party fundraising event, like a bake sale or fun run! Outside of monetary contributions, you can help KidSafe by advocating for us. Word of mouth is the most powerful way to spread the word about the work we’re doing within the community.
Do you have any events coming up?
We have our annual Golf for KidSafe tournament coming up on August 18th, 2023 at the University Golf Course. As this is our largest annual fundraising event, the funds we raise here have a significant impact on our operations. There are opportunities to get involved at the event as a golfer or sponsor! Please reach out to email@example.com if you are interested in joining us for this un-fore!-gettable day.
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