The Fort McKay Wellness Center: Helping kids in time of need

Please visit our COVID-19 resource page for the most current information about Red Cross programs, support, and tips.

By: Alyson Gourley-Cramer, Communications Advisor

A young child standing beside a drawing of a young boy.For more than 20 years, the Fort McKay Wellness Center, a non-profit organization in Fort McKay, Alberta, has been helping children and youth in Indigenous communities and from low-income families. The specialized programs and educational activities offered here promote and teach skill-building, self-reliance, personal development and self-confidence among children and youth aged 6 to 18.
When COVID-19 became a global pandemic, the Center was forced to close its doors. Despite these challenges, they managed to keep in contact with the community through a variety of creative ways. They hosted virtual programs daily, delivered art supplies and activities to help keep the kids busy, and provided virtual interactive programs so they could socialize with their peers.
Julia Soucie, Director of the Fort McKay Wellness Center, stressed how vital it was to continue these activities. “The kids are having a really rough time; they’re going through depression and have high levels of anxiety from being isolated at home. They’re already in a rural First Nations community, isolated to begin with, but now also isolated from this lifeline they rely on… this was and is their safe haven,” said Soucie. Not only were children affected, many parents also needed support which the Center provided through daily phone calls and assistance with specialized activities for their children.
Now as restrictions begin to lift, the Center is preparing to open its doors in the next month with the health and safety of everyone as its priority. With blessings to re-open from the First Nations community and financial aid from the Canadian Red Cross, the Center will safely welcome back their young community. “We see an average of 50 to 60 children a day so this additional funding from the Red Cross will help bring in extra staff members to allow for several small breakout groups of children and backup staff in case anyone gets sick,” said Soucie.
A young boy in goggles and a white lab coat.The additional funding will also allow the Center to hire a housekeeping support staff member to sanitize and disinfect the common areas and equipment after each use. “Having this housekeeping support allows staff to prepare and deliver programs for the kids without worrying about sanitizing or cleaning the equipment. Without this funding none of this would be possible,” added Soucie.
Along with added support staff, extra equipment such as basketballs, baseballs, and yoga mats can now be purchased to minimize sharing and contact, making it easier to sanitize and easing parents’ concerns. “The children are incredibly excited because they get access to their own equipment and most importantly, parents have peace of mind knowing that we’re doing everything we can to keep their children safe.”
The re-opening can’t come soon enough for the community. Here’s what one parental guardian had to say about the importance of the Fort McKay Wellness Center. “They (the children) miss their family, friends, school and the Wellness Center. The world today is hard for parents to understand, I can't imagine how the kids feel. In the darkness of all this gloom, you guys are a shining light. A big thank you… for all that you do.”
This program was supported thanks to the generous support of the Government of Canada's Emergency Community Support Fund.

Related stories:
comments powered by Disqus