August 23, 2021
Channing Richer and Karsen Varty stencil games on Red Deer pathways as part of a youth initiative to spread kindness and build self-esteem. Photo supplied.
Story by Tracy Kennedy
Youth here are spreading paint and positivity as part of a program designed to encourage activity, strengthen self-esteem and elevate how people view teens in their communities.
Since the beginning of June, a group of about 15 youth have painted stencils of interactive games like hopscotch on city trails and walkways as part of the SPARC Paint the Town Positive initiative.
The series of stencils is one of a number of events and campaigns under the Strengthening Positive Assets and Resiliency in Communities (SPARC) initiative, which began in November 2019.
Paint the Town Positive is driven by youth with guidance from SPARC Red Deer, a coalition comprised of community-oriented individuals and organizations such as Alberta Health Services (AHS), the City of Red Deer, Red Deer Public Schools, Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools, Red Deer College, Red Deer RCMP, the Outreach Centre and ATB Financial.
“The goal for any Paint the Town initiative, including this one, is for youth to give back and spread kindness in the community through projects they can lead,” says Rania Page, SPARC coalition chair and AHS health promotion facilitator team lead.
“With these stencils, youth have the agency to create something positive that community members can interact with. Our hope is families will see the games, then play and connect. There are so many good things that happen when you’re playing an interactive game outside.”
One of the benefits is being physically active, which improves mental health — part of the reason the AHS Move Your Mood program partnered with SPARC on the stencil program. The goal also centres on practising kindness, which provides a sense of purpose, reduces stress and improves overall well-being.
“It was neat to see our participants’ confidence grow,” says Page. “Some of them may start out a bit uncertain of something new, but in the end they showed a lot of creativity to make their artwork special and unique. It can be difficult to show up not knowing anyone, but we can see their self-esteem build. We hope that people see youth as valuable and doing good things in our community.”
One of the participants, Channing Richer, 10, painted stencils on a pathway at the local Bower Ponds park, and also next to the downtown skate park.
A fan of art in school, Richer thought it was cool to create his own designs by starting with a base colour, then blending and shading the colours.
In addition to creating artwork and something positive for others, Richer also wanted to take part to inspire kids to be more active outdoors.
“I hope when people see the games, they go try them out,” says Richer. “I feel proud when I see kids playing on them.”
Another participant, Chloe Fredeen, 11, gave her stencils a tie-dyed look, and says it was fun to contribute.
“Being involved is awesome, as it’s fun to give back to the community,” she says. “I really enjoyed painting the games in parks to help families have fun together on their walks.”
Fredeen frequently takes part in Paint the Town initiatives, and encourages other youth to do the same by visiting SPARC online.
To date, the stencils can be found throughout Red Deer, including at the Collicutt Centre, YMCA, Dawe Centre, Recreation Centre, Rotary Park, Fairview Elementary School, downtown skate park, Bower Ponds, as well as on neighbourhood pathways in Vanier Woods, Lancaster and Highland Green.
SPARC Red Deer promotes the “40 Developmental Assets” — the life experiences all children need to grow up healthy, caring and responsible. Move Your Mood runs annual family challenges, as well as programs for both youth and post-partum moms, to teach how mindfulness, physical activity, healthy eating and positive coping improve mental and physical well-being.