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Positive Action: Urban, American and with much to teach Sea to Sky families

Life skills and communication central to successful program

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A life skills and communication program that teaches entire families ways to better interact and support each other is improving the lives of Pemberton area residents.

Originally developed in the United States, Positive Action, which runs in Pemberton, Mount Currie, D'Arcy and the Lower Lakes, is a counselling and support program that aims to improve physical, intellectual, social, and emotional areas for individuals in order to improve school behaviour.

Program coordinator Jeanne Cross, of Sea to Sky Community Services, said it is targetted at families with children aged five to 14 and their caregivers.  A modified child-only version of the program is also being taught to kindergarten to Grade 3 school pupils at Signal Hill Elementary and Xit'olacw Community School.

A recent pre-registration night hosted 38 children and adults from nine families, all of whom were accepted into the program in the Parents Program in Mount Currie in a partnership with Xit'olacw school. Thirty-five families, or 100 people, participate per year.

Cross said the National Crime Prevention Centre in Ottawa let the Squamish-based Communities That Care Committee of regional educators and community service providers know funding was available to bring the program to Canada.

With evidence of its success in the U.S., Communities That Care was able to secure five years' worth of funding for four communities — almost $1.5 million, excluding $500,000 of in-kind assistance from Sea to Sky School District 48. The project is in its second year of working with the community and ends in May 2016.

"There are measurable outcomes and it's highly documented across the States as being a very successful program, targetting both rural and city populations," she said.

"It's a pilot project (in Pemberton) and the first in Canada."

The most recent course ran for seven sessions and finished in early April; it had access to facilitators from Sea to Sky Community Services, Early Childhood Education teachers, Lil'wat community members and an Xit'olacw teaching assistant.

Lucy Pascal, her husband Harold, and their three children aged seven, nine and 11 participated in the most recent session, completed on April 3, which they found out about from the Xit'olacw Community School newsletter.

"The children would go into different age groups and the parents would go into a different room for a session together, and we would discuss positive action about something different each week with discussions and exercises," Pascal said.

"It was optional if you wanted to share, or if you wanted to bring it home and do it as a family. One activity I remember was creating a core value plan for the whole family, making your own rules in your own home about how you wanted to be treated and how to treat others, as a family. About respect — so that the kids can learn these things now, how to make their own values and boundaries as they grow up.

"All people could totally benefit. It's one of these programs you take where you wish everyone could learn it and live that way."

Pascal said she had a strong personal interest in family education programs and had been taking them since her eldest daughter was a baby; the Positive Action program was the best she'd experienced.

"It just seems different. The other ones seem to just concentrate on the child, how you do activities with them to help them play, learn and grow. This one I really liked because it taught you how do deal with everyday life and your outlook on yourself, not just your children."

Pascal said she had seen a lot of positive change in all her family members.

"Even in the first week I did. I was, myself, stopping to think what I would say instead of being negative about something that might be happening. Even the kids were helping more, not siblings fighting," she said.

Since the course ended the changes are very much in evidence and Pascal believes they are permanent.

"They adapted it into something that would be relevant to our way of life."

Sylvia Shanos, a Lil'wat elder and health worker for decades, help Cross adapt and teach the course on two occasions.

"Jeanne and I formatted it to fit people here — I don't believe we celebrate Abraham Lincoln Day! Or go walking around the shopping mall or the book store... we had to change it up a bit, but it was easy to do so," Shanos said, adding that it translated well to local sensibilities and ethics, and was a very holistic approach to wellness, communication and affirmative behaviour.

"When we talked about values, we put in the medicine wheel... I believe the participants were able to talk very openly and safely about what the process and life they're going through," Shanos said.

The next intake later this year will be for Pemberton residents. Cross said just as participants gain much from taking part, one of the benefits of her position has been learning the skills taught in the program.

"Having coordinated the family programming and learned it inside and out, I can tell you that on a personal level my life has improved. I've been able to implement it into my own life," she said.

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