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‘Safe Community’ re-designation puts district at forefront

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Due to the initiative of the Rainy River Valley Safety Coalition, Rainy River District has proven it is at the forefront of safety at both the national and international levels following its re-designation as a “Safe Community” last Wednesday afternoon.

During a ceremony at La Place Rendez-Vous, Paul Kells, founder of Safe Communities Canada, re-designated the 10 local municipalities and nine area First Nations as “Safe Communities” on behalf of the World Health Organization.

“You are at the vanguard of recognizing the issues of injury prevention and safety promotion, and coming together to do something about it,” Kells said from the podium.

“Ordinary people can make a difference and save lives,” he stressed.

“No other community is working together like your municipalities and First Nation communities,” Kells added. “It’s amazing that all of this is happening around the issue of safety.”

The district was the third in Canada to be designated back in 1997—and just the second to be re-designated.

Not only was Wednesday’s gala about the “Safe Communities” re-designation, it also was held to recognize all municipalities, aboriginal communities, and community partners that strive to make Rainy River District a safe place.

Grace Silander, with the RRVSC, explained the area received the designation from Safe Communities Canada in 1997.

It then was awarded the international “Safe Communities” title by the World Health Organization in 2002 when the RRVSC hosted the 11th-annual World Health Safe Communities conference, which attracted more than 250 delegates from 23 countries around the world.

The WHO designation was intended to last 10 years, but regulations changed and now the title needs to be re-evaluated every five years.

Last year, the RRVSC also earned the Safe Communities Canada Award of Excellence for Community Leadership, which recognizes outstanding examples of how real community leadership can—and does—make a difference in the network of designated communities.

Eight different categories of criteria need to be met in order to receive the designation or re-designation of a “safe community,” including community infrastructure, community participation, program sustainability, program range, priority populations, program evaluation, impact and effectiveness, and community engagement.

“The programs have touched the lives of every individual in the district,” said Freeda Carmody, who represented the Rainy River District Municipal Association during last Wednesday’s signing ceremony.

She noted people of all ages have learned from the initiatives, such as car seat clinics, bicycle safety, railroad safety, the D.A.R.E. program, and medicine cabinet clean-outs to name a few.

“In our 10 municipalities and nine First Nations communities, many teenagers have not fallen into a life of crime because of the D.A.R.E. programs and families have not perished in house fires because they know how to crawl to safety,” Wanda Botsford said on behalf of local MP Ken Boshcoff.

“People have cared enough to give us this valuable information,” she added, noting they have shared their sixth sense—that of common sense.

“They have given us something we can grab a hold of. . . . This isn’t just for today, but planting the seeds for tomorrow,” Botsford stressed.

John Rafferty, representing local MPP and Ontario NDP leader Howard Hampton, thanked all those involved in making the “Safe Communities” re-designation possible.

Past RRVSC chairman Doug Anderson offered some background on how the group came to be.

“You’ve built the programs stronger than I ever dreamed they’d be,” Anderson said, noting the RRVSC was formed in 1994. “Thank you for carrying it on.”

Meanwhile, RRVSC co-chair and gala emcee Bob Swing read congratulatory messages from Donna Stein Harris, of the National Safety Council in the United States, and Fort Frances Fire Chief Gerry Armstrong, the other co-chair of the RRVSC, who could not attend Wednesday’s event.

“Your safe community will continue to be an inspiration,” Stein Harris wrote while Armstrong stressed the RRVSC has grown tremendously over the last few years and it’s future is promising.

But Silander did mention the lives of three district youth were lost last year.

“Did we do something wrong?” she asked. “No, people will still make their own choices and might make errors in judgment. However, most of the time we are succeeding.

“Things aren’t perfect . . . but we’re making a team effort,” she stressed. “And we are seeing more and more people making better choices.

“We will become the safest district in the world one program at a time.”

Two new initiatives were launched during last Wednesday’s gala—one of which is a reusable bag fundraiser.

The reusable bags, bearing the inscription, “Supporting Safety in the Community,” are available at businesses around the district for $2 each.

As well, Silander highlighted the RRVSC Checklist, which is a document of information on a variety of different safety topics that will be distributed throughout the district.

Finally, at the close of the event, a draw for a “safety tree” was made, which went along with the theme of the gala: “Growing the Garden of Safety.”

Silander indicated the RRVSC was given a tree as part of the leadership award it had won, but with 19 different communities in the district, they weren’t sure where to put it.

The Township of Alberton was the lucky winner, which will decide on a species of tree and a location.

“But we’d like to keep all the children in the district involved, so we’re looking at purchasing seedlings so each school in the area can have their own tree of safety,” noted Silander.

Representatives from each municipality and First Nation community signed the agreement to re-designate them as “Safe Communities.”

Carmody and Elder Bessie Mainville participated in the opening and closing of the ceremony while Diane Clifford of Riverside Health Care Facilities, Inc. offered a blessing.

A number of booths also were on display during the event, and there was plenty of time for visiting and refreshments.

Silander chosen

Besides conducting the “Safe Communities” re-designation, Kells had another announcement to make during last Wednesday’s ceremony, revealing that Silander had been chosen to become an international certifier with the organization.

“Due to the leadership we’ve seen from the area, our intent is to take a representative from the Rainy River District to join us,” Kells said, referring to Silander.

“She will represent us in other communities, and decide who receives the certification and who doesn’t,” he explained.

“It was quite a surprise,” Silander said afterwards. She noted they had said they were looking at the possibility of teaming with other places, but didn’t know she was receiving the honour.

“I thought it sounded interesting,” Silander remarked. “I’m pretty well-versed in the criteria . . . so I guess they thought I’d be a good candidate. And I’m so very honoured.

“I’m just excited about it,” she enthused. “You don’t realize that people are viewing you as one of the leaders. You just putt along and do your work. So I had never looked at it that way before.”

Silander will help with the “Safe Communities” designations in some communities in the United States.

She will attend a training session at a conference in Winnipeg in November.

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