PORT HAWKESBURY: First Nations and municipal leaders, educators, health care workers, and citizens of all ages came together last week to develop a strategy for supporting children in their communities.

Over 75 people took part in last Wednesday’s “Raising the Villages – Mawiomi W’Jit Mijuwajijk Planning for Action Summit” at the Port Hawkesbury Civic Centre.

Inverness County Councillor Jim Mustard explained the mission of the Raising the villages at last week’s summit. The gathering marked the one year anniversary of the project.

“One in three children in the Strait regional school board is in the lowest 10 percentile in their development Canada-wide when they enter school,” said Inverness County councillor Jim Mustard. “We can reduce that to one in 10, or even lower than that, but we need to start early.”

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Mustard helped to establish the Raising the Villages initiative one year ago, along with health promoter Christine Villneff, and Sera Thompson of Dartmouth-based company, New Leaf. It was established as a response to the One Nova Scotia Coalition’s Collaborative Action Plan, which highlights the importance of supporting children in their early development.

Port Hawkesbury Mayor Brenda Chisholm-Beaton joined other First Nations and municipal leaders to sign a declaration of support for the Raising the Villages initiative at last week’s gathering.

One of the purposes of the summit was to share the results of the research the group has conducted over the past year and to discuss the next steps for improving the lives of children and families in the region.

“We have collected over 250 responses to some basic questions: What’s working right now to help you raise your children? What could you use more of, and what things aren’t working?” said Mustard.

Mustard said that while positive things are happening in communities, the responses indicate that parents often do not know how to access the resources they need, such as specialists, early intervention programs, or social supports. He believes the region needs a coordinated effort to better support families and children.

“We need to start even prenatally so that our young mothers have a stress-free environment where they can belong and just get the information they need as they’re going through their pregnancy,” said Mustard.

Mustard said the group hopes to set up welcoming spaces within communities where parents can access information and services while connecting with others. He believes this would be a solid investment in the future of the region.

“We think it’s a win-win for everyone, for the whole community, because if you have welcoming places it makes it more attractive for people to stay in your community or move to your community,” said Mustard.

Participants at last week’s Planning for Action Summit worked in groups to discuss what they will need to do in order to establish these spaces in their own communities. Mustard said that the next step is to seek provincial funding for a full-time coordinator position to help communities move forward with their plans.

Chief Rod Googoo of We’koqma’q shared a visit with Emily Laveck, the seven-month-old granddaughter of Warden Bruce Morrison of Victoria County at last Wednesday’s Raising the Villages summit.

Mustard said it is important for everyone in the region to collaborate and learn from each other. At Wednesday’s summit, a declaration of support for the initiative was signed by community leaders representing Inverness and Victoria counties, the Town of Port Hawkesbury, We’koqma’q and Wagmatcook. Mustard said that he is pleased with the support Raising the Villages has gained over the past year.

“I’m really encouraged that this has been endorsed by the First Nations chiefs and municipal leaders, as well as the 600 people who have participated over the last year in sharing the importance of this for their families and communities,” said Mustard.

The Indian Bay Drummers welcomed participants at the opening of last Wednesday’s Raising the Villages summit. Seen here (from the left) are: Andy Pierro, Mike Lafford, Daniel Googoo, and Jerome Googoo.