Last week we had a chance to speak with the executive director of the KidSafe Project, Gerhard Maynard!
KidSafe provides nurturing safe havens for vulnerable inner-city children when schools are traditionally closed.
What is KidSafe all about?
Gerhard: KidSafe provides service to over 450 children during Winter, Spring, and Summer Break through it’s break-time and transition to high-school programming.
What is the primary objective of KidSafe?
Gerhard: The primary objective of KidSafe is to provide a safe place for children to go where they have access to caring adults, a full day’s nutrition, and engaging recreational and socio-emotional programming.
How would you define "vulnerable inner-city children"?
Gerhard: Vulnerable is a definition used broadly to refer to children and or youth who may be exposed to factors such as poverty, mental-health concerns, bullying, isolation, trauma, or may be struggling with any number of social and emotional challenges in their lives. Children who are deemed vulnerable are usually facing one or more of the above mentioned factors.
Why was KidSafe created?
Gerhard: KidSafe Project Society is a registered Canadian children's charity based in Vancouver, British Columbia. We were founded in 1993 by a group of concerned citizens, The Vancouver Sun newspaper and public school teachers in response to a local tragedy that saw a young child assaulted and abandoned when left home alone during school break. KidSafe was formed when the community galvanized into action and united with the mission of providing nurturing safe havens for vulnerable inner-city children when schools are traditionally closed.
What was your first experience in the charitable sector?
Gerhard: My first major experience working in the Charitable Sector was with the Royal Conservatory of Music managing a large initiative in BC called Learning Through the Arts in which we worked alongside teachers to deliver the non-arts curriculum using the arts a way of engaging students and supporting them in finding academic success.
What is so important about the work that you do?
Gerhard: Supporting some of the most vulnerable children in our community ensuring that their basic needs for nutrition and care are met while also helping to ensure they can access opportunities that exist for them in their community. Nelson Mandela once said that the true character of a society is judged on how it treats its children. I like to believe that as Canadians we place an incredible importance on the wellbeing of children and that means providing them with the service and supports they need to be successful despite the circumstances they may face in life. It has become widely accepted that not doing so comes at a tremendous cost to our society in added costs to our health care and criminal justice systems. The late Clyde Hertzman, a respected early learning scientist, explained the concept of early interventions and supports as laying the foundation of a house. It is much easier to provide the service and supports to help children at the foundational level than to spend a lifetime trying to course correct and repair a leaky condo.
What inspired you to get involved in charitable work?
Gerhard: I think I have to give credit to my mom for modelling the importance of being involved in your community and giving back. I have spent the bulk of my career to date working in some form of public service. I think that’s because we were taught from an early age that if you have the opportunity to contribute and make a difference you should and if you have the opportunity to extend a hand to people who may not have had the same opportunities as you have in your life you should extend it. While I didn’t come from a background of wealth or privilege I always had the core fundamental building blocks that I needed to be successful and equality of opportunity was an important concept to practice and strive for.
Was there a defining moment in your career/life that set you on the path to helping others?
Gerhard: I’d like to say there was but I truly can’t think of one moment that stands out alone. For me It has probably been a series of moments, people, and the workings of a great many others that moved me along the way. I am always infinitely more inspired by the work that others have done.
What is it about helping people in need that feels good?
Gerhard: I have to say that the idea of helping has always implied for me a one way exchange in which there is ‘helper’ and a ‘helped’ and I like to say I experience that quite differently. I have heard stories of resilient and amazing single parents, inspiring teachers and school based workers, some families who have moved through significant mental health challenges, those that have come out through the other side of significant addictions and trauma, and children who experience things that no child should ever have to experience. I also say that these are some of the most resilient, amazing, inspiring, honest, humble, and heartfelt people that I have ever had the privilege to know. It’s those lived experiences and the way in which many of these individuals shine in the face of adversity that often leaves me and many of my colleagues feeling that we are the ones that have been ‘helped’. We have a lot to learn from some of the most marginalized and vulnerable people in our society if we take the opportunity to listen.
What do you feel the Government of Canada could be doing to help vulnerable inner-city children?
Gerhard: I get asked this question often and to be honest there are many great people throughout the City and the Province who work everyday to support the well-being of vulnerable children that it makes it a difficult question to answer. If I could wave a magic wand I guess my ask would be that children; vulnerable children and youth in particular be at the forefront of our agenda no matter which party is in power and that we have a strategy for how we approach the work that is both thoughtful and represents a commitment to advancing and improving the lives of children in British Columbia. While I appreciate there are always differences between parties and partisan issues the wellbeing of children in our Province should always be something that all parties are committed to advancing and improving.
What are the most common misconceptions (if any) people have about vulnerable inner-city children?
Gerhard: I think that the most common misconception is that vulnerable inner city children are somehow different from other children. At the end of the day they have the same basic human needs for love and belonging, they are facing struggles, they experience significant challenges, need support, but they are some of the most resourceful, resilient, and amazing kids that you will ever have the opportunity to meet.
What does your ideal British Columbia look like?
Gerhard: We say at KidSafe that our vision is that “All children live in the community with the inspiration and support they need to be healthy contributing citizens.”
Anything new and exciting on the horizon at KidSafe?
Gerhard: We are going to be opening up a new site this year which will serve approximately 50 more children so stay tuned.
What advice would you give to someone that is interested in getting involved in charitable work?
Gerhard: I would encourage anyone who has an interest in the sector to pursue it. If it is your passion…do it….and find a way to get involved. In a world where technology is changing the way in which we interact with one another I argue that we are not more connected we’re less connected. I think charitable work is a way to re-engage with our purpose, our raison d’etre, and to be connected.
Most people want to get involved in some form of charitable work, but it often gets pushed to the side. Why do you think that is?
Gerhard: I think it’s human nature. We’re all busy people—we want to help but sometimes we don’t know how and sometimes to be fair we haven’t been asked.
How can the residents of Vancouver help KidSafe?
Gerhard: There are two key ways that we need support and both are equally important. Donating financially and/or giving with your time are two ways you can help. We’d ask that if you can do either of these things to reach out to us via email or phone.
Where can someone contact you if they wants to get involved with KidSafe?
www.kidsafe.ca or 604-713-4467
Thank you so much for your time, Gerhard!! And thank you to KidSafe for doing such amazing work!