Challenge Accepted - United Way Alberta Capital Region

Challenge Accepted

May 29, 2020


During the pandemic, the Heartland Challenge finds a way to support local students

A group of committed community volunteers from Alberta’s Heartland found a way to do some local good for students from Next Step High Schools in Sherwood Park and Fort Saskatchewan despite restrictions due to COVID-19.

Plans were underway for the 2020 Heartland Challenge when the pandemic hit, putting those plans on hold. The Heartland Challenge is a committee representing 10 industry and public service organizations in the Heartland region, including Fort Saskatchewan, Red Water and Strathcona County. For six years now, this group has collaborated with United Way of the Alberta Capital Region to bring awareness and education to the Heartland region on how United Way impacts members of their community through a network of agencies.

This year, the Heartland Challenge committee focused much of their work in partnership with one of United Ways funded partners, Next Step High School, an alternative school for students in Grades 9 through 12. Students who attend Next Step experience social challenges, each on their own, that deter them from attending school through the traditional route.

An artistic project with students organized by the Heartland Challenge committee, called Pride Sidewalk Painting and scheduled during Pride Week, was cancelled due to COVID-19 as was the building of a community garden in Sherwood Park. Since the committee’s original plans were disrupted by the pandemic and they couldn’t be there to physically support students, the committee changed their focus and decided to support students through the outbreak instead. They created home care packages for students who are now required to stay at home and distance learn. Eighty kits were put together for students in the community who need support the most.

The home care kits included food, hygiene items, face masks, hand sanitizer, mental health care activities like adult colouring books, and active living items like soccer balls and games, plus a list of 211 resources. 211 is a comprehensive referral service available to Albertans. A special message for each student was also included in the package, letting them know they are being thought of and cared for by the community and their teachers.

Inside this “We are all in this together” card, is a heartfelt message that says, “Stay safe. From the staff at Next Step and the Heartland volunteers.” Such cards were included in every care package to students.

COVID-19 and the need for social distancing has changed the way community interacts with each other, but the Heartland Challenge committee bridged the gap for teachers and students to stay connected with the teachers being able to personally deliver these kits.

“On behalf of Next Step, I really wanted to thank you all, ” Janet Clarkson, Success Coach, Next Step High School. “COVID has changed how we are connecting with our students, but the fact remains that members of their larger community reached out to them to show them they are cared about. This is hugely impactful, and I know it will extend past this school year.”