One year from now, the “Project Sunset” program at Crossroads School in Devlin will stop receiving funding from the provincial government and its viability will become dependent on community partners.
“We're working on our path towards sustainability and working with our community partners on how we're able to keep the project going in some capacity, in all four areas, past the life of our funding and support,” said youth engagement co-ordinator Lincoln Dunn.
“We are hopeful that we're going to find a path to continue to work in some way, shape, or form but we're just still figuring out what that's going to look like,” he noted.
In January, an independent evaluator visited the “Project Sunset” programs in Fort Frances, Kenora, and Dryden to run focus groups, conduct interviews, and do observational studies of the work happening in the schools.
“We know what kind of impacts we've seen through the program and we're anticipating the data and variables they generate is going to reflect that, as well,” Dunn remarked.
He's hoping the results will help to persuade enough community partners to get on board in supporting the program so it can carry on past its funding envelope, which discontinues in March, 2020.
Across all four areas where “Project Sunset” is offered, Dunn said they currently have dozens of community partners that are supporting the program.
“We've got support from organizations like the friendship centres, the Treaty #3 Police, Dryden City Police, the Gizhewaadiziwin Health Access Centre out of Couchiching—they've all been strong supporters of the program,” Dunn noted.
“And they're continuing to help these kids build life skills and see a different, more positive path that they can take.”
The “Project Sunset" programming meanwhile, has been "life-changing work,” Dunn added.
“It's work that feeds all of the members of the team, but it's making a difference in the lives of these kids,” he stressed.
“We're being able to create experiences for them that they may not have otherwise had.”
Many of the activities that make up the programming consist of skiing, skating, sleigh rides, swimming lessons, canoeing, archery, camping, and overnighting in a quinzee (outdoor snow structure).
At Crossroads School, for instance, the Grade 5-8 students involved in “Project Sunset” currently are taking skating lessons with Luke Judson from Emo.
The Township of La Vallee created an outdoor ice surface for the students to use, which the La Vallee Fire Department has helped to keep flooded and maintained over the winter.
“We've been out every week that it hasn't been minus-25 or minus-30 outside,” said Dunn.
“It's been great," he enthused. "We continue to do lots of different activities, we're continuing to help these kids see new potential ways or new potential skills that they can learn.”
Crossroads students also are participating in archery inside the school gym.
“They're doing archery lessons with a couple of the staff members out there after school, so they're alternating between doing archery and ice-skating lessons each week,” Dunn explained.
In Sioux Lookout, where “Project Sunset” also is offered, students currently are doing cross-country skiing while in Kenora, they're building a quinzee in which they're planning to camp out in overnight.
“In all four areas, they're also working on some community service projects,” Dunn noted.
“I know at Crossroads, they are looking to help the school buy new sports jerseys so they're starting a new bake sale.”
The students are planning on selling the goodies during upcoming sports tournaments Crossroads is hosting.
Going forward, “Project Sunset" will be supporting Crossroad School's trip to the annual "Festival De Voyageur” in Winnipeg.
As well, Dunn currently is working on plans for a special year-end trip for the “Project Sunset” participants.
“We're also planning on doing a day trip up to Dryden to meet with the kids from all four areas,” he remarked.
“They have all been working on some community service projects, so we're looking at having a chance to come together and to talk about their progress . . . and maybe have a chance to do some swimming at the Dryden pool, play some games, and do some fun stuff, too.”
With its programming running year-round, Dunn said the team also has been planning past the school year to run fun trips and activities during the summer months.
He currently is working with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry to plan another multi-day trip to Quetico Provincial Park.
Looking ahead, Dunn is excited to continue “Project Sunset” programming at Crossroads and make a positive impact on the students involved.
“These kids are so amazing," he lauded. ”They are so willing to step up to all of the challenges that we put in front of them and I couldn't be more amazed by the work that they're doing and the changes we're seeing in them week-to-week.
“I'm so grateful that we get to work with these kids and that we get to help them . . . find a positive path as they grow and as they become contributing members of our communities,” Dunn said.