Family Centre marks 20 years

Human and Social Development

- Kate Hildebrandt

Occupying a modest, two-bedroom suite within the Family Housing complex on Lam Circle, the UVic Family Centre was intended as a family health unit. Twenty years later, it has evolved into something much more, says director Elizabeth Quong, “and that’s a good thing.”

“You get hooked on what this place can do for people,” says Quong who has managed the centre for eight years. “This is very compelling work.”

That’s due in large part to the learning that happens there—and not just by students. Parents, children, staff and volunteers, as well as practica students, faculty and researchers can all learn and study the reality of cultural differences, acceptance and inclusion which happens here. The centre offers a range of support services as well as health and early learning programs, student practicums, and hosts social events like pancake breakfasts, meet-ups, and lots and lots of play.

Angie Gray, born and raised in Victoria, is a Child and Youth Care practicum student at the centre and a mom living in family housing. She marvels at how the learning has impacted her two school-aged kids. “They are experiencing a level of integration and cultural awareness that I could not give them any other way. We can’t afford to travel the world but here they are gaining a deeper understanding of people with different languages, beliefs and traditions.”

Inclusion and support

Approximately half of all student families come from far-away places such as Egypt, Indonesia, Libya, Bangladesh, Denmark and Belgium—to name just a few. “For many, it’s their first time experiencing a different culture. We recognize the challenges families face in making that adjustment,” says Quong.

And for most, English is a second language. Understandably, some are shy and cautious, aware of their differences and yet connecting significantly around the one thing they have in common: they are families who have invested a great deal toward one parent’s education. Usually the ones in need of moral support are the parents and children most stressed by the move, complicated by loneliness as the studying parent is away from home a good percentage of the time.

“Staff and students are mindful of the elements contributing to family cohesion. We ask what families want and need,” says Quong, “and help with resources and information both on and off campus. Everyone learns and shares.”

Resources include a public health nurse from Island Health who visits monthly to examine the little ones. The practicum program includes students from UVic’s Schools of Child and Youth Care, Social Work and Nursing, as well as from Camosun College. The centre also serves as a rich source of research and study for UVic graduates wanting to evaluate this model and its varied outcomes and benefits to human health, well-being and social development.

The centre features indoor and outdoor spaces that stimulate learning through play along with numerous programs and meet-ups. There is an Early Learning Program, an After School Club, a Family Learn and Share drop-in, a Mom’s Time Out get-together, and a Knitting Circle where knitting skills are not required. There’s also a monthly Book Club, a toy and book-lending library, clothing exchange, food bank, and plenty of community celebrations.

Still, as Quong points out, the centre is more than the sum of its parts.

“Yes, this is a friendly neighbourhood house with a strong international component. It is also an intimate meeting place where we can break down barriers, too, in gentle ways.” One of UVic’s multifaith chaplains, Angela Wood, also connects here and refers people to other faith communities, too.

“The Family Centre staff and volunteers have done a great job in creating a warm, welcoming place that successfully engages student families,” says Laurene Sheilds, HSD associate dean, who helped prepare the proposal that launched the centre 20 years ago.

“This support is precious in that it improves the likelihood for the student member of the family to be successful in their studies. Pretty much everyone involved experiences vast cultural differences, too, which offers profound dynamic learning.”

Catherine Bodson-Verhaegen, a mother who is here with her husband and two children from Belgium, wrote: “How do you feel when arriving from abroad to an empty house with two little ones? Even with loads of info from the website, and established contacts through social media, you still feel lost. The Family Centre was for us a place to meet people from all over the world who were sometimes facing the same challenges. We got all our answers here and that made us feel less far from home.”


In this story

Keywords: community, anniversary, international, student life

People: Elizabeth Quong

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