PORT HAWKESBURY: A local group is reaching out to the community for help in supporting young children and families.

Over the past year, Raising the Villages – Mawiomi W’Jit Mijuwajijk (Mi’kmaq for “gathering for our children”) has asked for input from community members on how to make western Cape Breton more welcoming for families. They have also reached out to local municipalities and community groups such as the Strait Richmond Community Health Board (CHB) to raise awareness of their mission.

“We use children as our north star. They’re guiding us as we’re trying to make decisions in their best interest and help young children and families in our communities,” said health promoter Christine Villneff during a presentation to the Strait Richmond CHB at their November 7 meeting.

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Villneff helped to organize Raising the Villages along with Inverness councillor Jim Mustard, 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.

“We found that we needed to do some research, and see specifically what the issues were,” Villneff said.

In the spring, the group launched a survey in order to learn what families think their communities are doing well, and which areas could be improved. The survey will be available until Friday (November 17). The group has also attended a variety of events and public meetings. Over the summer, they began partnering with municipal leaders to host “Welcoming our Youngest Citizens” events in several communities including Baddeck, Inverness, and Wagmatcook. Port Hawkesbury Mayor Brenda Chisholm-Beaton hosted one of the gatherings in Port Hawkesbury on October 28.

“It was a day to raise more awareness, but also just to let people know how it feels to gather with all these ages, and give people a chance to meet the babies in their communities and the parents who just need to get out sometimes,” said Villneff.

Christine Villneff (left) of Public Health helped to organize Raising the Villages along with Inverness councillor Jim Mustard, and Sera Thompson of Dartmouth based company, New Leaf.

The next phase of the project will occur on November 20, United Nations Universal Children’s Day, when Raising the Villages will host a Planning for Action Summit in Wagmatcook. Organizers will release the data they have gathered through their survey and community members will have the opportunity to discuss plans for future action based on the findings. Villneff encourages anyone who may be interested to attend the event.

One challenge Villneff sees locally is a lack of social supports for young families, especially for single parents, or those living in areas with limited access to childcare. However, she added that most of the respondents to the survey indicated that they were happy to be able to raise their children in their communities.

“People want to live here, and they want to make it the best community that they can. That is something very hopeful and inspiring that we’ve seen come out of the research,” said Villneff.

Strait Richmond Community Health Board chair Dorothy Barnard says she is looking forward to working with Raising the Villages and possibly hosting a “Welcoming our Youngest Citizens” event with them in the future.

“We have four priorities: poverty, food security, social isolation, and early childhood development. So, in fact, that project fits in with all of them,” said Barnard. “So hopefully, we’ll be involved in several ways including representatives from the community health board working with Raising the Villages.”

Anyone who would like more information on Raising the Villages is asked to contact Christine Villneff at: christine.villneff@nshealth.ca or 902-258-3220.