Prince Edward County’s Newspaper of Record
June 14, 2024
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Reaching for Rainbows

Expansion, raising the profile are on the agenda
<p>Artwork from Reaching for Rainbows</p>
Artwork from Reaching for Rainbows

Since 2011, Reaching for Rainbows has offered after-school support to vulnerable girls six-to-nine years old.

To date 150 girls have come through a program which is unique in Canada. It features play-based learning to encourage the confidence and resilience the girls need to meet life’s challenges, whether they are social, emotional, familial or economic.

The philosophy of support is based on sound sociological knowledge that the early years are crucial for success in life, and that the key to a stronger and richer society is in girls’ education.

Twice a week during the school year, thirty girls are made welcome after school for self-directed learning activities, quiet time, food and care in a consistent, safe and encouraging community.

R4R’s current strategic plan is looking to build on its successes and organize itself for the future by investing in its dedicated staff and volunteers. Last year, it was awarded a Trillium Grant, and recognized as “best non-profit” by the PEC Chamber of Commerce — despite the absence of an Executive Director.

New Chair Heidi Burgess is initiating the search for a new ED. She also wants to build up the Board from five directors to ten or twelve.

Heidi Burgess, Chair, Reaching for Rainbows (supplied photo)

“I’d like to bring more because I just feel like when you have a diversity of ideas and a diversity of voices, it makes us stronger. And it’s a working board, so we want to relieve the burden,” she noted.

An ED would organize and distribute the work of the staff and volunteers, but also look to fundraising and raising the profile of R4R beyond the County’s borders.

Connecting with the “community of providers” in the County is an essential part of what R4R does. Ms. Burgess explained that R4R had been approved for inclusion in the Queen Elizabeth School project, which would have helped to integrate its offerings with “wrap-around supports” to enhance their clients’ access to services.

She hopes that the failure of funding for the Queen Elizabeth school project is only a delay, and appreciates the County’s commitment to making it a reality.

The “village” model of providing support emphasizes community. After all, the concerns that affect girls are those of the whole community: affordable housing; employment; education; transportation; diversity, equity and inclusion.

While its dedication to its young demographic fills an essential need, Ms. Burgess is keenly aware of the gaps in what the County has to support its community.

“What about boys?” she asks. “Many of the girls in our program have brothers with similar needs. And what about the girls who graduate from this program by age 10 and have no supports until they are 13, and eligible to join TheROC?”

“What about the girls who must leave the program because their families must relocate because of housing insecurity?”

The need is great, and awareness still lags behind. Ironically, Ms. Burgess suggests, the lack of supports actually hides the need.

“I think that there’s a lack of awareness within the broader community that there is real poverty. There are a lot of barriers that even by the age of six young girls are facing in this particular community that are augmented so much more than any other communities that we’re taking a look at.”  

It is R4R’s job not just to support its girls—to provide them a safe space, to give them the opportunity of self-determination—but to give them a voice in the larger world.

“When people learn about what we do, they want to help,” asserts Ms. Burgess, pointing to their current fundraiser, a silent auction (open until 5 May) with contributions from many local residents and businesses. “I’ve just been blown away, especially by the women-led businesses here,” she says gratefully, “it’s just so nice to see in this community that they’re just so giving.”

She adds that the R4R volunteers are key donors of their time and effort, and more are always welcome.

This is a valuable community-building program, whose first graduates are now in early adulthood. The Rainbows staff tell stories about meeting them in various places around the County or hearing of their success in getting into university.

Some graduates even stop in to say hello every now and then.

This text is from the Volume 194 No. 18 edition of The Picton Gazette
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