Welcoming Communities: Port Alberni Fun Fair brings community together

The Port Alberni Energizers, the local Special Olympics team, raise funds at the Community Fun Fair so they can attend an Operation Trackshoes event in Victoria each year.

On October 20, close to 700 Port Alberni residents went to the 8th annual Community Fun Fair to enjoy food, games, find out about programs and to celebrate inclusion.

The fair is an annual collaboration between the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD), Community Living BC (CLBC), the Port Alberni Association for Community Living (PAACL), Citizens Advocacy, and the City of Port Alberni, Parks and Recreation. Originally started 12 years ago, the fair was primarily a resource fair until the organizers added an indoor “Our Town” event (this event is run by the City throughout the summer).

“Eight years ago we decided we wanted to broaden the Fun Fair so it was more inclusive, and a better reflection of our community,” said Craig Summers, Executive Director of PAACL and an organizer for the Fun Fair. “We added a lot more games, and the response has been tremendous. The number of attendees keeps growing each year. It’s exciting to see so many people participate in an event focused on inclusion.”

The Glenwood Centre, centrally located in Port Alberni, is where the Fun Fair is held.  Games are organized around the perimeter of the room – basketball, mini golf, bouncy castles, face painting, hockey, cake walk, and arts and crafts – with the resource fair set up in the centre of the room. Resource tables included information about CLBC, Parks and Recreation, Registered Disability Savings Plans (RDSP) and MCFD. All activities are free; the only cost is for food at the Port Alberni Energizers (the local Operation Trackshoes group) kiosk and at the Coombs Candy table.

“Operation Trackshoes is located in Victoria. Both the Port Alberni Energizers kiosk and the Coombs Candy table are raising money to help self advocates participate in a weekend event in Victoria,” said CLBC analyst Lisa Evans. “Last year they raised $796 and this year the total was close to $720. It’s great to see the community being so supportive, and the amount of funding raised still almost the same, though the event has been shortened to two hours from the original three.”

Parks and Recreation is the main organizer of the event. Each of the activities around the room is staffed by at least one self advocate and a student volunteer from the Human Services Certificate Program at North Island College.  All wear red or bright neon green shirts with Port Alberni Energizers emblazoned on the front and back.

“We have great participation in this event from the self advocate community,” said Pam Fletcher, CLBC facilitator. “What is fantastic is that people playing the games are relating to self advocate staff just as they would any volunteer at a fun event. There is recognition of their abilities. That’s exactly what we want inclusion to look like.”

Port Alberni is a small city of about 17,000 people on the west side of Vancouver Island.  The community is located in an inlet southeast of Tofino off of Barclay Sound, and was formerly a logging and pulp mill town.  The mill now makes cellulose, and the town is working to transition to a more diversified economy.

“Many young families are moving here, and the town is starting to change. One of the reasons the fun fair attracts so many people because it is a free activity for families, and there are many families living in Port Alberni who are low income,” said Lisa. “We are thankful the business community is such a great supporter of this event, and make donations to help keep the event affordable.”

The cake walk is one of the highlights of the event for the children, self advocates and families who attend.  This year, there were close to 50 cakes to give away.  Cakes are made and donated by home share providers, foster parents, staffed homes and group homes.  Some of the cakes were donated by Mountain View bakery, which donates a cake for every cake bought as a donation.  Buy Low and No Frills donate the food for the Operations Trackshoes kiosk, and Coombs Candy make smaller sized packaged candy and snacks at prices that are much reduced from its store prices.

The Port Alberni Fun Fair is held every October, and it is advertised by Port Alberni Parks and Recreation in its annual calendars. The organizing committee also circulates the event poster through each of their networks, as well as the local media and the school district.  The school district provides a flyer to each school-age child in the district.

“Our committee works about seven months of the year on this event, and we have a really collaborative team,” said Pam. “It is a lot of work but it’s very rewarding.”

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