MYzone After School Program Celebrates 10-Year Milestone This Fall
From pilot project to permanent program, MYzone has established itself as an integral component for healthy childhood development.
For countless children, MYzone After School Drop-In Program has provided an affordable and accessible opportunity to learn, play, create and socialize in a safe environment. This fall marks the 10th anniversary of the popular program, and as the milestone draws nearer, we’re taking time to reflect on its first decade. From pilot project to permanent program, MYzone has established itself as an integral component for healthy childhood development.
Prior to MYzone’s launch, a clear need had emerged in the community. Tween-aged children longed for after-school engagement and parents sought support for their children throughout the school year. The city recognized this need, but also understood that if a viable program were to be developed, it would need to be well executed.
In 2012, MYzone was born and children, ages 8-12, finally had a space to make new friends and enjoy healthy snacks while playing games, making crafts, taking part in community projects, and utilizing quiet time for reading or homework in a fully supervised environment, from October to June. Be that as it may, the program was still untested and despite extensive market research, many questions remained unanswered. Would kids embrace it? Would parents have reservations about the drop-in nature of the program?
A Warm Reception
Thankfully, those questions were quickly answered. The exhaustive research and development paid off and MYzone’s launch saw children thrive with access to open spaces, an abundance of supplies and equipment and the opportunity to try new activities and be creative with how they used their time. Once children became comfortable with the program, they were encouraged to get involved in their community and lead action projects within their facilities–a practice that continues today. To date, these projects have most notably included charity fundraisers, children’s rights awareness campaigns and art exhibits at the Senior Centre.
The Importance of Good Leadership
Program organizers recognized that sound leadership would be instrumental to the long-term success of the program during its early stages. MYzone leaders were trained (and continue to be trained) in child development, so they can best understand how to create welcoming environments and foster participants’ growth. For the last ten years, MYzone leaders have helped shape the design and layout at each individual site by advocating for children and providing continuous feedback. As research supports the need for more caring, safe adults in children’s lives, MYzone leaders strive to be positive mentors and allies who employ a child-centred approach to program delivery.
The path to success is rarely linear and MYzone’s sustainability faced challenges over the last decade, resulting from ever-changing economical factors. With the rising cost of living, one of the program’s cornerstone principles–its affordability–was routinely threatened.
MYzone set out to reduce access barriers for families, helping to alleviate financial pressure on families and offer affordable options for children to recreate.
Each time the program was evaluated, that intention was called to mind; the financial burden on parents and the exclusion of children simply could not be jeopardized. By absorbing the operational cost of the program, the city has committed to creating a developmentally appropriate and safe space for children, where families needn’t worry about the program’s quality being compromised due to cost.
MYzone has continued to flourish, growing from two sites to eighteen sites (pre-COVID). The program, once offered exclusively in recreation facilities, is now offered in schools and in City-operated facilities. With the centralized locations of many MYzone sites, transportation barriers have been further reduced for families. In 2018, the City of Surrey launched the MYgame program, to enhance MYzone’s activity options for families during after-school hours.
In 2019, MYzone was recognized as the proud recipient of the British Columbia Recreation and Parks Association (BCRPA) Program Excellence Award. The award recognizes innovation and service excellence that enhances the quality of life for British Columbians through recreation and parks. MYzone was also recognized as a key initiative when the City of Surrey received the National Play It Fair Award in 2016 awarded by Equitas – National Centre for Human Rights Education.
Impact & Future Outlook
MYzone has been particularly impactful for newly immigrated families and children who are homeschooled. The opportunity for additional social interaction has helped build confidence and a sense of belonging for many.
“My favourite aspect of the MYzone program is the civic engagement and leadership opportunities that the program creates for our youngest citizens”, shared Rajdeep Kandola, Afterschool Services Coordinator.
“In 2017, 12 MYzone sites collaborated to host a Canada 150 celebration for their friends and families. MYzone participants planned and executed every aspect of the event from invitations, décor, entertainment, refreshments and much more! The space was buzzing with excitement and pride as families watched their children take on leadership roles and have a sense of belonging in their community.”
So, what does the next decade hold for MYzone? According to Kandola, the program is expected to grow in the years ahead, offering more support to families across the city and continuing to adapt to the interests of participants–without compromising quality. In fact, Kandola’s ultimate dream envisions MYzone participants returning as program leaders to inspire next generation!
Registration for MYzone After School Program is now open. For more details, visit: surrey.ca/myzone.