Serious About Play: Red Fox Society

Indigenous youth, young people in the LGBTQ+ community, and others with disadvantaged backgrounds face barriers that prevent them from achieving their full potential. It is an unfortunate reality in Vancouver and BC. The good news is that these youth can benefit from group programmes that encourage them to learn, grow, and succeed. Many pursue educational endeavors that they could not accomplish without the support of non-profits and charitable groups in the area. DP World spotlights organizations such as Red Fox Society that contribute to the lives of at-risk Canadian youth.

Red Fox Society, founded in 2006, promotes healthy living among children and youth and offers training and employment opportunities for young adults.

Global Becomes Local

When Vancouver was selected to host the 2010 Winter Olympics, the Government of British Columbia also invested money in local communities to support active and healthy lifestyles for all. At the time, Emma Sutherland, founder and director of Red Fox, was working with Indigenous people throughout Vancouver as a part of Vancouver’s parks and recreation initiatives. So, when she was charged with establishing a recreation program for underserved youth, particularly Indigenous, racialized, and low-income children and young adults, Sutherland reached out to her contacts for guidance and ideas.  Coleen Patterson of the Mohawk Nation suggested calling the new organization Red Fox.

Why a red fox? Many Indigenous people believe in the concept of the medicine wheel, a circle divided into four quadrants: red, yellow, black, and white. Each color represents aspects of health, well-being, and the natural world. Red often represents physical health and vitality. Foxes, for many First Nations, represent cleverness, resilience, and a love for family. A red fox is healthy, strong, and able to overcome barriers to support its family and community.

Bringing Play to the Community

With their free recreational and training programmes, Red Fox Society provides a safe space for the youth it serves. An important part of childhood is play. Play helps children learn about themselves and others, to develop healthy habits for life, and to experience the pure joy of it. For many low-income kids, however, carefree play is hard to come by because of equipment costs and a lack of safe spaces to play. Red Fox makes up that difference with programmes throughout Metro Vancouver where they provide the space and the supplies. Perhaps most importantly, kids also meet Red Fox’s youth leaders and young adult employees who are Red Fox program alumni themselves.

Active play groups for children meet at Metro Vancouver schools and parks throughout the year. Red Fox brings games, simple obstacle courses, pogo sticks, hula hoops, flower sticks, and balls. Under the supervision of youth leaders, the children can learn new things and make friends. Red Fox also offers a drum and powwow dance group which meets weekly and performs throughout Vancouver. Red Fox’s Creative Cafe programme brings powwow music, dancing, and active play together with cultural and environmental education, as well as storytelling and art.

During the lockdown portion of the COVID-19 pandemic, Red Fox altered its program delivery, offering more drum circles and dance groups, and Zooming to provide programming into elementary schools.

Red Fox has recently added a partnership with Hub Cycling, a cycling education organization. For many low-income families, a bike is a significant and unmanageable expense. A bike can be a game-changer, though; it can greatly expand a child’s mobility and a young adult’s ability to travel to school or work. Hub Cycling trains Red Fox’s youth leaders on cycling education. Red Fox and HUB source used bikes and fixes them up. Programme recipients are given thorough cycling training and road safety lessons, before receiving their bike and helmet.

Developing Life and Leadership Skills

The Red Fox leadership continuum is structured so that each age group learns from the one above, giving all participants the opportunity to grow into leadership positions. Programme Participants (age five through 10) are guided by Junior Leaders (age 11 through 13) and can transition into Junior Leaders. Junior leaders are led by and learn how to become Youth Leaders (age 14 through 20), by assisting and being mentored by the Red Fox staff.

Junior Leaders are often recruited directly through the programs, by identifying kids who attend regularly and who could use some additional support. Junior Leaders help prep and clean up before and after the weekly play sessions and receive a small honorarium for their efforts. They are led by Youth Leaders, who have greater responsibilities. The Youth Internship program, launched in May 2020, is a full-time paid internship for high school graduates. The internship has recreation, childcare, programme delivery, digital literacy, and financial literacy aspects. The interns also complete an off-site placement with another community organization, to get experience working outside of Red Fox. Many graduates of this program have been hired by their internship placement sites, and some Red Fox staff were young adult leaders before they were hired

Support the Power of Play

Red Fox Society always welcomes volunteers and donations. As with many non-profits, grants support programming but not operations – the monies needed to pay staff, keep the lights on, and fundraise for future endeavours. For those with skills to offer, Red Fox can use communications and fundraising support. Sutherland would like to use ebikes for more of their transportation needs, which would ultimately reduce Red Fox’s transportation expenses, but they need to raise the upfront costs before they can do so.

If you are a business organization or individual looking to partner with, sponsor, or donate to Red Fox Society, contact them directly. And follow them on Twitter and Facebook to stay up to date with their activities and initiatives.