by Tim Fitzgerald, News contributor
A healthy community grows through a strong bond between each generation it produces. At Eugene Reimer Middle School, the fruit of theses efforts will be sown in a new community garden.
The school, thanks to a $17,500 grant from the UBCM Community Connections program, will continue to build on its initiative to use the school as a place where not only students and teachers gather, but where neighbours can come to unite.
The school, located at 3433 Firhill Drive, started the process in the fall of 2011 when it converted an unused classroom into the Eugene Reimer Community Hub room. Complete with couches, tables and chairs, the area now serves as a multi-purpose room that community groups can use seven days a week. While the room is part of the program, the idea is to incorporate the whole school. It recently held its grand opening as students, teachers and community members gathered to make it official.
Andrea Senft, manager of community development for the Abbotsford school district, noted, “We say this is the community hub room, but the whole school is really the hub. We have programs going on throughout the school, whether it’s in the gym or in other classrooms.”
Whether it’s a dedicated room for adult ESL classes or tea and talk time for area seniors, the idea is to give ownership back to the community, she said.
Reg Gabriel, principal at Eugene Reimer, emphasizes the importance of bringing its neighbours inside the doors of the school, even while classes are ongoing.
“The big thing for middle school philosophy in general and in this community is a sense of belonging,” said Gabriel. “And that really meshes well with the neighbourhood feel we’re creating here.”
The garden, which is in the planning stages, will become another extension of that goal. The project will incorporate a sitting area as well, so people can come and relax. While students will benefit from such things as the ability to conduct on-site science projects in the garden, it also gives everyone involved a sense of community pride, noted Senft.
“They come from anti-crime strategies,” she said. “The more engaged the students are, the less likely they are to get involved in vandalism. Plus when more adults are involved, it brings the two groups together and means more eyes on the school.”
The hub room and the future garden have been initiated by the students with the help of the school district, the parks, recreation and culture department in Abbotsford, the police department, the Abbotsford Youth Commission, the provincial government, and Abbotsford Building Connections.
Gabriel said they have also been in contact with the Abbotsford Community Garden Society to help plan out the new plot. Come construction time, they are hoping more members of the community can donate their time and energy in getting the project growing.
Simran Mann, a Grade 8 student at Eugene Reimer, said she’s appreciative of everyone’s work creating the hub and garden.
“It’s great to be able to bring the whole community together that feels safe, where we don’t have to worry, “ said Mann. “It will be a chance to get to know the people around here better.”
Under the Neighbourhood Learning Centres initiative, the province has set an expectation that schools use their existing space to accommodate a wider range of services for students, families and the community to maximize the public benefits of school facilities. The province introduced the $10-million School Community Connections program in 2005, providing grants to assist in transforming school facilities into lively hubs for community activities and services.