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Alison

"We always have an eye to building sustainable programs"

Meet Alison

When Alison became a co-ordinator with Our Kids Network’s Acton Community Hub in mid-2007, she found a big part of her role was advocacy, in part for the town itself.

 “I learned very early on that speaking up for Acton was a huge part of my job. Now people know I’m going to be loud and make a lot of noise for Acton families when I go to meetings. I speak for the ‘north,’ when it comes to making choices of where meetings and events are going to be held, and try to make sure we are represented.”

Acton has one of three Hubs in Our Kids Network (OKN), a Halton Children’s Aid Society (Halton CAS) program that brings people and organizations from across the Region together to improve the lives of children, youth and families. The Hubs are the faces of OKN. Each is located at a school, houses a co-ordinator and Halton CAS community protection worker and has classroom-sized space for community programs run by OKN members.

Organizations can use the Hubs—located in Acton, Milton and Aldershot—to run programs independently, using secure entry systems. Each Hub is different, reflecting response to community needs and existing groups already in place. In Acton, for example, drop-in programs for youth, social skills programs run by the Reach Out Centre for Kids (ROCK), Nelson Youth programs, Girls Inc. and Discovery Leadership, among others, use the Hub.

When Alison took on the co-ordinator role, the Hubs were still a pilot in the early stages of awareness of their purpose and methods.

“The biggest change I’ve seen is that people have come out of their silos to work together. Certainly there has been no change to commitment. There are people here today who were working on this well before I arrived. But gradually, previous co-ordinators sold the community on the concept of collaboration, built an understanding of the work, built trust in one another and built their job descriptions as they went along. I think they started incredible buy-in. That’s the biggest change, the understanding of what OKN is all about.”

Alison’s role is multi-faceted—building a team of all the people who serve Acton through different agencies, to better meet the needs of Acton’s children, youth and families they come from. The OKN meets once a month and its greatest strength, she says, is that it can try out new ideas.

“If someone brings an idea to the table, we can do it. There’s no bureaucracy, so it’s truly grass-roots community development in terms of testing initiatives. Our space is free, so that is one way we break down barriers for services coming to Acton.”

“The role of the Hub is to bring others together, not to take on the work others do. We always have an eye to building sustainable programs—being aware that if we weren’t here, the work should continue.”

Alison explains barriers to services for children, youth and families in Acton include lack of public transit, the distance to get to services and lack of recreation for youth. “Often what is important here in Acton is strengthening and communicating about our services. People here also drive outside for recreation and access to mental health and other services. The Acton Hub wants to bring those services to town instead.”

“The OKN set up a committee—the Acton Food Network—to communicate what is done here and streamline more. Partnerships have grown as a result. The Hub is a drop site for the Fresh Food Box program and involved in the Food for Life program.”

“A young girl spent time at the Hub helping out and told her mother about the Fresh Food Box program. The family needed some food support and received some benefits from it; then both the mother and daughter came to work with the program because they wanted to give back. We have some great relationships like that. Acton is a wonderful community in that way.”

In 2011, Acton embraced a fundraiser for the International Youth of the Year and National Youth Week with its First Annual Fire Truck Pull. Alison explains, “Halton Hills had never seen anything like it. We have some strong advocates for youth, which is really great. Although youth voices are listened to more and more, we can easily overlook them. So, when we decided to hold a fundraiser for our youth centres, we got people to volunteer their time and youth volunteered and got really involved–really taking on the project, which is what made it successful. The rewards far outweighed the investment. That’s what I find about my job—it is incredibly rewarding.”

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