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After school programs are a rock for community youth

Imagine how it might feel to grow up in community housing, but your neighbourhood is surrounded by million dollar homes. This is a reality for some children in Burlington, Ontario who take part in the Our Community Cares (OCC) program, part of the Reach Out Centre for Kids (ROCK).

"When we opened the program at its current location, we were quite isolated from the core of the city," said Kelly Giuliani, manager of community and youth development for ROCK. "Over the past 20 years, the surrounding neighbourhood has grown substantially and has become very affluent. It's very alienating for the kids and difficult to raise awareness about the social issues in the community."

ROCK is the largest accredited children's mental health organization in Halton Region, and offers the OCC program to help build healthy communities in priority neighbourhoods. OCC offers after school programming to kids aged 5 – 17, as well as support to families, including a food cupboard, a free clothing room and computers to families who are struggling financially.

"The kids we work with are "at-risk" because of their environment," said Kelly. "Lots of kids are being bullied, lack social skills and have low self-esteem. We work closely with other programs in ROCK to provide additional support and early intervention, when needed, to kids showing early signs of mental illness."

The staff, who are trained child and youth workers, give kids the opportunity to discover their passions and talents. A former OCC youth discovered he was a great basketball player through the program and now plays in the NCAA.

ROCK received a first-time donation of $31,000 this year through the RBC After School Project.

The RBC After School Project is a multi-year philanthropic commitment to support community-based organizations that provide programs for children and youth aged 6-17 with structured, supervised activities that enhance safety, social skills and self-esteem. Since 1999, RBC has provided more than $27 million in grants to 248 community-based after school programs in Canada, helping almost 29,000 children.