Guest Blog: Back to School Picnic helps give a head start

The annual Aboriginal Back to School Picnic initiative began at Surrounded by Cedar Child & Family Services in 2003 as a small community celebration for a few children preparing to return to school.

The original picnics were very grassroots driven. The first picnic saw just over 100 attendees and 45 backpacks of school supplies were distributed to urban Aboriginal children. No questions asked. Surrounded by Cedar pulled the school supply lists from the school districts websites. Caravans of shoppers loaded into vehicles and cleared the school supplies from the stores in Duncan. All kinds of volunteer support was necessary to sort through supplies, stuff back packs with the correct supplies for each grade level, ensure the big rental truck was loaded, and to head out to the park to celebrate our children’s return to school. Dunk tanks and children’s activities filled the park, and drummers could be heard throughout the neighbourhood. Our children came with smiles on their faces, and families connected through play, through laughter and through the love of the urban Aboriginal community.

In its preparation for the event, Surrounded by Cedar reached out for some financial and volunteer support from four sister agencies: the Victoria Native Friendship Centre, the BC Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres, Hulitan Social Services and M’akola Housing Society. Surrounded by Cedar also sought the support of the First Nations Education Division within School District 61 (Victoria) to develop and implement the first Back to School Picnic.

Since the original event, held in 2003, the picnic has grown each year. The demand for supplies has continued to increase annually. Recognizing that it could no longer manage the planning and organizing of this event off the sides of its employees’ desks, Surrounded by Cedar sought out a Back to School Picnic coordinator. The organization was blessed to find Ron Rice at that time, and Ron has been organizing the picnic since. Through his guidance and vision for the picnic, the growth and expansion of the event has been incredible.

The Honourable Judith Guichon, Lt. Governor of British Columbia, attended the 2016 Aboriginal Back to School Picnic in Victoria.

In August 2016, 10 Back to School Picnic events were held throughout Vancouver Island, the Lower Mainland and the coastal north. All of these events were done in collaboration with our friends at the M’akola Housing Group and various Friendship Centres. The Victoria event was kicked off at Government House, with the Honourable Judith Guichon, Lt. Governor of British Columbia, in attendance. The picnic then traveled to Duncan, Campbell River, Courtenay, Port Alberni and Nanaimo. The following week, the picnic was hosted in Surrey and Mission. And for the first year, the picnic traveled to Terrace and Prince Rupert. Approximately 4,880 community members joined in the festivities and supplies were provided to 2,701 students from pre-school to post-secondary.

Surrounded by Cedar expresses deep gratitude to all of its partners: the Victoria Native Friendship Centre; the BC Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres; Hulitan Family and Community Services; M’akola Housing Group; the Province of British Columbia; RBC Royal Eagles; Vancity; Rina M Bidin Foundation; Scotiabank; Unitarian Church; Monk Office; Ridley Terminals; Turtle Island Events; MNP (Meyers Norris Penny) and the Capital Regional District.

Planning is furiously underway for the 2017 Aboriginal Back to School Picnic events throughout the Province. It’s gearing up to be another amazing event! Victoria’s event will take place on August 12, 2017 at Government House. Registration deadline is July 9, 2017. Registration information can be found at www.surroundedbycedar.com.

Surrounded by Cedar Child and Family Services has held an endowment fund at the Victoria Foundation since 2008, with annual grants supporting the organization’s operations.