West Side Family Place has been instrumental in empowering families, nurturing early childhood development, and inspiring similar initiatives throughout Canada. We spoke with their Executive Director, Diane Elliott-Buckley, to find out more about them.
Describe your charity/non-profit/volunteer work in a few sentences.
As a pioneer in family resource programs, West Side Family Place has been instrumental in empowering families, nurturing early childhood development, and inspiring similar initiatives throughout Canada. This year we celebrate our 50th anniversary!
Established in 1973 by young mothers Ellen Leslie and Mary Lynn Burke, West Side Family Place was born out of community activism and dedication to addressing the shared frustration and isolation experienced by stay-at-home mothers at the time. The organization’s founders recognized the need for support and community during the challenging journey of parenthood and responded with a simple but unique approach that would forever change the landscape of family resource programs in Canada. Through its diverse programs and services, West Side Family Place provides a welcoming environment where families can connect, learn, and grow together.
The “Play and Learn” drop-in program is at the core of our services from which additional prevention and support services are accessed. Through participation in the drop-in and with the support of trained and qualified staff, families develop an increased capacity for coping and caring for their children on a daily basis. These programs provide the opportunity for parents to enhance and improve their parenting skills by participating in education classes, workshops, and support groups in a safe and familiar environment.
What problem does it aim to solve?
New parents face overwhelming challenges, but all parents want to be the best they can be. Faced with the crushing cost of living in Vancouver, the lack of access to affordable childcare, and so many competing sources of parenting information, it can be very stressful.
West Side Family Place provides a welcoming and inclusive environment that supports and strengthens families and builds community. Young families and caregivers join us for children’s activities, parenting programs, one-on-one support, or just to relax for a while knowing that their child is in a safe and friendly place. Rather than provide advice, our staff walk alongside parents, helping them learn to respond to their child’s unique needs. We also connect families to other community resources when required.
When did you start/join it?
I joined West Side Family Place in October 2014.
What made you want to get involved?
I had been involved in Family Places since my children were babies. We had attended Mount Pleasant Family Place, and later I served on their board of directors for several years. I am passionate about building community and supporting families and this was a great fit for me.
What was the situation like when you started?
In many ways, parents are dealing with the same issues they were 50 years ago. Sleepless nights, constant worries, balancing workloads, and dealing with social isolation. The way we approach these issues may have changed, but our core values and goals remain very much the same as they were in 1973. The thing that really makes West Side Family Place special is our staff, whose purpose is to make visitors feel welcomed and cared for without judgement. Staff are intentional about connecting with all participants, laying the groundwork for trusting relationships. This is what makes our community members feel safe enough to come back and seek support from staff when needed.
How has it changed since?
The cost of living in Vancouver and lack of access to affordable childcare continues to put pressure on local families, many of whom are new to Vancouver and do not have family close by. Now more than ever parents and caregivers need neighbourhood-based community support.
Increasing wage costs are also putting a lot of pressure on small non-profits. As a result, we are trying to be more strategic in our fundraising. Our goal is to create longer-term relationships with major donors to take some of the pressure off volunteers and staff and allow us to focus our energy on our supportive programs.
What more needs to be done?
There are still families that are not being reached, including newcomer families and those in vulnerable situations. One of the ways we could make our programs more accessible is to expand our hours of service. Additional resources would help us to welcome more families, possibly in the evening or weekend. Communities are recognizing the impact of isolation and loneliness. As our digital connectivity has increased exponentially our human connectivity seems to have diminished.
In 2012, Vancouver’s mayor launched a task force to combat loneliness in the city, in response to a survey that found one in three Vancouverites had difficulty making friends, and one in four felt alone more often than desired. Governments have implemented strategies to reduce the impact of disconnected communities on mental health, physical health, and other social issues such as addiction and crime. Community social services, including family resource programs, are where these strategies are put into action.
How can our readers help?
We ask that people spread the word about our services to young parents and childminders in the Kitsilano neighbourhood and surrounding areas. We are here to help parents, caregivers and their children.
West Side Family Place is a Registered Canadian Charity and relies on donations and fundraising to operate. Although we receive funding from all levels of government, the cost of operations continues to rise. Making a donation will help us improve our services and reach more families.
Do you have any events coming up?
Yes, we do! To celebrate our 50th anniversary this year, we are hosting a special fundraising gala, which will take place at the Hollywood Theatre on September 28. To celebrate this momentous milestone, we invite current members, past Board of Directors, distinguished guests, and the local public to support this worthy cause. The fun-filled evening with emcee Fred Lee will feature music by The Live Ones, great food and drink, and a live and silent auction. With a casual take on the traditional gala, we hope our guests will enjoy a fantastic evening.
Where can we follow you?
PAY IT FORWARD: What is an awesome local charity that you love?
West Side Family Place is part of a network of Family Places in the City, including Mount Pleasant Family Centre, Marpole Oakridge Family Place, South Vancouver Family Place and East Side Family Place. All of them aim to provide assistance to the whole family, but their programs are tailored to the specific needs of the local community.