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Students connect with refugees, start club for kids
November 12, 2008
SASKATOON, Sask.—Every Wednesday Dana Barrand and her friends organize an evening of fun-filled activities for children living in the Golden Oaks Apartments on Appleby Drive here in Saskatoon.
“Kids are so lovable,” remarked Barrand as she returns home from her classes in the University of Regina’s satellite campus in Saskatoon to find a large group of children waiting for her.
Amidst warm hugs and laughter she unlocks the door to a three-bedroom suite that has been designated for the Appleby Kids Club—an informal club started by Barrand in 2004 when she was 22 years old.
Her inspiration for starting the club grew out of her friendship with two brothers who arrived in Saskatoon in 2004 as refugees from Sudan.
The brothers were living in the Golden Oaks Apartments and every time Barrand visited them she was surprised at the number of children living in the housing complex and the lack of activities for children in the neighbourhood.
Barrand was a participant in a Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) youth internship program working for the refugee assistance program for MCC Saskatchewan at the time. With the support of MCC and the manager of the complex, Barrand started making arrangements for a weekly family fun night.
The first event took place in August, 2004. The manager had given her permission to use the tennis courts. “I had planned for 15 to 30 kids but 75 kids showed up,” recalled Barrand.
In September the manager allowed her to move the activities into a vacant suite. In January 2005, the complex came under new management and a formal agreement ensured that the suite would be used only for events relating to the Appleby Kids Club and that MCC would cover the insurance fees.
The number of children participating in the weekly meetings continues to grow. The average attendance is now 40 to 45 children with more than 200 people from the apartments and neighbourhood participating in community events, such as the popular outdoor movie night, summer carnival and fall carnival.
More than 400 children between the ages of three and 16 live in the housing complex which is comprised of 10 three-story buildings and 240 suites, explained the apartment’s manager Tony Van Esch. About 45 per cent of the suites are occupied by newcomers to Canada.
“We call this our little United Nations,” said Van Esch, estimating that newcomers living in the apartments represent about 13 different countries.
In an effort to establish closer relationships and friendships with children who participate in the Appleby Kids Club and their families, Barrand and one friend moved into the Golden Oaks Apartments in May 2006.
Soon after moving in more friends moved to the apartments. Over the years, 15 friends and young people from Mennonite churches and Bethany College have lived in the apartments. Currently, six young people from Mennonite churches and Bethany College are tenants.
“We are all here intentionally—we are all here to love our neighbours,” said Barrand. “This is something that is in my heart—just getting to know the families who live here.”
Most of the young people living in the apartments are regular volunteers at club activities. The club also receives strong support from church groups and individual volunteers who provide refreshments and materials for crafts and other supplies for the weekly meetings, as well as funds and transportation to give children a chance to experience summer Bible camp or daily vacation Bible school.
In addition to support from local volunteers, the club receives support from some of the groups participating in CHALO!—MCC Saskatchewan’s short-term exposure and service experience program. Assistance from larger groups makes it possible for the club to organize community events and daily programs.
“When you work in my business you often see the less positive side of people,” said Van Esch. “Then you meet a group of people like Dana and her friends. It reaffirms your faith that there are people who give of themselves. This is a very positive impact in our community.”