“He thinks it’s the coolest thing ever,” says Ashley, referring to her eldest son, James’, love of CityKidz.
With almost eight years of our programming under the 11-year-old’s belt, one could say that this is a well-informed opinion.
While CityKidz has been with James for most of his life, Ashley’s connection to our organization goes back even further to her own teen years in the late 90s.
Ashley first learned about CityKidz at her church and got involved as a volunteer in her early teens. She helped out on Saturdays back when our programming was in the Playhouse Theatre. As is the way in life, Ashley grew up, moved, and lost touch with our organization.
But then, many years later, the mother of one of James’ friends told Ashley about a very familiar-sounding program and how much her son enjoyed it. Surprised and delighted that CityKidz was still up and running, Ashley immediately went to register James.
“20 years later, the program may have changed and adapted, but the core values are still there and that’s special,” says Ashley.
From Home Visits to our Saturday programs, James and his younger siblings immediately took a shine to CityKidz – especially their route captain and our organization’s founder, Todd.
“They loved him to pieces right from when they were super young,” says Ashley. “He’s made such an impression with all of them.”
For James, it didn’t matter what hat Todd was wearing. Whether he was up on stage in costume for a Saturday program, or pulling up in front of his home, James could recognize his favourite person a mile away.
Whether he’s at CityKidz, school or just in the neighbourhood, James is an easy-going and open-hearted kid who will connect and play with anyone.
“He is such a kind soul who will stop and do anything for anybody around him,” says Ashley. “If he can make you feel better, he’s going to.”
In this way, James has taken to heart the lessons he sees modelled at home and that are reinforced at CityKidz Saturdays to be kind, and to be a good friend.
His reaction to seeing the struggles that other kids go through is to say I just want to be a friend. I want to help people.
Ashley marvels at how, “even when we hit our lowest of lows, he’s like, well, there’s still kids that are worse off than us.”
And lows the family has had. While 2020 was a challenging year for everyone, it was a particularly dark year for James and his family. The year started with a house fire that left the large family with nothing but one another.
“James bounced back,” says Ashley. “He’s like, it doesn’t matter what we have, we’ve got people that care about us.”
Throughout the toughest times, making sure James and her other children see, know and understand that they are loved and that they are not alone has been Ashley’s top priority.
“You need to feel like somebody cares about you,” she explains. “We as parents care, but to see somebody else say we really care about you, we really want to be involved… that’s the reminder you get with CityKidz: you’re not by yourself.”
While his parents worked hard to create stability for their children as they searched for a new home and rebuild their lives, we at CityKidz tried to find ways to support the family – with toys to help keep the kids busy, gift cards and phone calls to see how everyone was doing.
“After we had our fire, you guys stepped up so much,” remembers Ashley. “I don’t even know how we got through that year. It’s a blur but I won’t ever forget those phone calls.”
Now, two years later, James and his family have pulled through to better days.
At 11-years-old, James is nearing the end of his time at CityKidz Saturday. But he’s far from ready to let go of his favourite Saturday activity. He’s desperate to keep CityKidz in his life and Ashley is encouraging him to continue to CityYouth and to volunteer on Saturdays to share the experience that has meant so much to him with his siblings and other children.
Knowing James’ kind heart, enthusiastic spirit and all around oldest-child maturity and sense of responsibility, we know that he will make a natural Jr. Leader and help us show a new cohort of children that they are known and loved.