Why Play Matters: Social Rec Connect

By: Dana Stephenson

nd of interactive learning is why it’s not surprising to find that children who are unable to play tend to do less well than their peers in academic settings. There are many programs in the City of Ottawa that are designed to let children play in a safe, supervised environment, but what about families that can’t afford to sign their children up for these programs? And what about the families that don’t know there are programs just a few blocks from their homes?

This is where Max Keeping, Craig Mackie and Derek deLouché come in, along with the United Way, the National Capital Region YM-YWCA, the Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa and Christie Lake Kids. Over the last few years, these groups have been coordinating the first stage of Social Rec Connect program, a trial run to see if the program would be feasible to run in Ottawa. The results have been spectacular, with 245 children enrolled in 705 different recreational activities in the past year, children who otherwise would have been unable to partake in these kinds of activities without the assistance from the Social Rec program.

The program is sparked by the need of people within the City of Ottawa. Before the program was even initiated, 19 areas within the city were marked as priority neighbourhoods that required assistance, particularly with children. The hope is to give children in lower income areas a chance for a productive future rather than turning to crime to escape their circumstance – this is not a case where children do not want to take part in recreational activities, but a case where they haven’t been given a chance. The Social Rec Connect program is what will give them that chance. The plan is to eventually roll this program out across the problem areas in Ottawa in order to bring the community together to help children have a chance at a happy childhood, hopefully inspiring other cities across Canada to start up this program as well.

What marks the Social Rec program as truly different from other programs is the policy of active pursuit, where the purpose is to lower barriers that would prevent children from participating in recreational activities. Since there are multiple different barriers that exist from family to family in Ottawa, the Social Rec program goes to these families and informs them about the available programs. Often times the very first barrier is that families who would be interested in having their children partake in these activities do not know about these options. Other barriers include income, transport, as well as language and culture. To combat these problems, the Social Rec program will provide subsidies to the families, walk the children to and from the activities as well as accommodating for language and cultural differences.

Since time is spent to learn about each individual family and their needs, it is much harder to abuse the program, allowing the money to be spent on families who are truly in need of assistance. Through partnerships with the city and each community, money is raised to make the program possible, proving that it takes a village to raise a child. Over the last two years, the Social Rec program was in a trial phase to assess the needs and feasibility of the program, allowing for the program to be perfected to best suit the families. It is now in the second stage of testing. This stage will be ongoing for the next three years to assess how sustainable the program is, with the hope to expand the program within the next five years if everything goes to plan. Given the results over the past two years, things are looking up for the Social Rec Connect program. With any luck, this initiative will be available to families across the country very soon.