media release

Engaging neighbourhoods in healthy childhood development

July 28, 2014

Joanna Ashworth, 604.317.9202,
Stephen Dooley, 778.782.7475, 604.788.2509,
Carol Thorbes, PAMR, 778.782.3035,


Simon Fraser University in Surrey is collaborating with the United Way of the Lower Mainland (UWLM) and its partners to design an innovative grassroots project. It will foster successful early childhood development right in our backyards.

United Way of the Lower Mainland (UWLM) My Neighbourhood, My Future seeks to give children the best start in life by developing neighbourhood specific or place-based solutions that help to build community around each child.

The City of Surrey, one of the UWLM’s key project partners, has contracted SFU Surrey to lead the implementation of community engagement strategies in Guildford West.

SFU scholars Joanna Ashworth and Stephen Dooley are directing SFU Surrey’s team during the community engagement process.

Ashworth, SFU’s Centre for Sustainable Community Development associate director, directed the SFU Centre for Dialogue’s programming for eight years and created the university’s Dialogue and Civic Engagement certificate program.

Dooley, executive director of SFU’s Surrey campus, has a long history of involvement in participatory community-based research projects. Formerly a sociologist at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Dooley has researched youth violence and was named the 2014 Leader of the Year at the Surrey Leader’s annual Community Leadership awards.

UWLM My Neighbourhood, My Future will develop action plans to foster the well-being of children, new born to age six, and their families. In collaboration with The Human Early Learning Partnership (HELP) at the University of British Columbia and the Social Research Planning Council (SPARC), the UWLM created My Neighbourhood, My Future (MNMF).

The program is grounded in rigorous research, including a HELP study that connects early childhood adversity to poor social, emotional, cognitive and mental health outcomes.

The UWLM has made Guildford West a priority pilot neighbourhood because research shows it has “readiness to learn” challenges in terms of children’s social, cognitive, emotional and communication development. UWLM worked closely with the City of Surrey in choosing Guildford West as the city’s pilot neighbourhood.

Surrey has been a key supporter in this initiative, regarding MNMF as highly complementary to its vision of becoming a model community in the provision of world-class services for the city’s youngest children.

“In order to have impact on childhood vulnerability, we know that our investments and collective partnerships need to start in the early years,” says Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts.

“MNMF, as a place-based early years initiative working to improve the lives of young children, moves us closer to creating an Early Years Centre of Excellence. It also leverages shared leadership, data, reporting metrics and citizen engagement.

“The integration of the Early Years Smarter Cities initiative with the UWLM’s investment demonstrates both the opportunities and commitment to improving childhood vulnerability in Surrey.”

Ashworth and Dooley are leading a team of specialists in using community engagement strategies, such as dialogues, art projects and online surveys, to solicit concrete, community-based ideas on how to foster healthy early childhood development.

Once crystalized, those ideas will inform the creation of a multi-year action plan for Guildford West by Sept. 30.

“One important goal is to identify community strengths or assets, people, programs, institutions and public spaces, such as parks, and meeting places for an action plan,” says Ashworth. “This is a unique opportunity to bring Guildford West residents’ voices into a place-based planning process. This pilot project will inspire other neighbourhoods to generate change initiatives to turn around the lives of children and their families, and build strong social connectedness.”

Local residents and professionals from varied backgrounds gathered at a recent Guildford West community dialogue event to brainstorm about what could help children thrive in their own backyards.

Suggestions included drop in mental health counselling at the local library, a neighbourhood-based community kitchen or food hub and an art program for children and their parents.

“This is a genuine form of community participation,” says Dooley. “We are building involvement of local ideas and expertise into the business plan and creating the basis for local leadership of the project going forward.”

An online survey, available until Aug. 15 at, is another community engagement tool that Dooley’s and Ashworth’s team is using to gather information about the neighbourhood’s strengths and challenges. It is surveying the area’s demographics, languages, housing, transportation, childcare facilities and other dimensions.


  • Guildford West residents are invited to join the MNMF team at Hawthorne Park on Wednesday, July 30, 12:00-3:00 p.m., for a celebration of the area’s Salmon Habitat Restoration Program and at Holly Park on Friday, Aug. 29 for the area’s first annual Harvest Festival beginning at 3 p.m.
  • The UWLM funds, leads and manages the United Way My Neighbourhood, My Future project. A broad-based executive committee is overseeing the local development and rollout of the project. The committee is co-chaired by Stacey Rennie, City of Surrey, and Laura Soon, B.C. Ministry for Children and Family Development. Other committee members include Karen Alverez, Surrey School District; Jeff Calbick, UWLM; Melanie Holden, Surrey Library, and Judy Mussenden and Heme Shrestha, Fraser Health. The advisory committee has representation from the City of Surrey’s Children’s Partnership.
  • In a commentary about the early childhood study’s findings study author Clyde Hertzman says, “The report concludes that Canada needs an era of experimentation that focuses on improving developmental trajectories in early childhood, working with groups as well as individual families and building evaluation data systems capable of detecting positive social change.”

The United Way is a charitable organization established more than 80 years ago. The United Way of the Lower Mainland is dedicated to creating healthy, caring and inclusive communities by breaking the cycle of poverty, helping school-age children make the right life choices and supporting seniors to stay independent and active.

Simon Fraser University is consistently ranked among Canada's top comprehensive universities and is one of the top 50 universities in the world under 50 years old. With campuses in Vancouver, Burnaby and Surrey, B.C., SFU engages actively with the community in its research and teaching, delivers almost 150 programs to more than 30,000 students, and has more than 130,000 alumni in 130 countries.


Simon Fraser University: Engaging Students. Engaging Research. Engaging Communities.

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