Mackenzie, BC: The Journey to Win $200,000

Leanne McKinnon moved to Mackenzie, BC in 2009 and quickly became emerged in all the beauty of the Northern Region. This blog post is written by her and tells her story about being part of the team that won the Aviva Community Fund for the community of Mackenzie, BC.

The Journey to Win $200,000.

We are fortunate to be surrounded by numerous beautiful lakes and to have a vast trail network just outside the city. On my days off I would hike to the waterfalls behind my house, enjoy long skis with my dogs in the winter, swim across Morphee lake, hike the ridges on top of Morphee Mountain and enjoy life on the outskirts of the city as much as possible.

After the birth of my child in 2016, I began to search for a different type of outdoor experience. One that worked around nap times, centralized locations, mommy/baby socializing, feeding times, diaper blowouts and nap times (yes that is worth mentioning twice).

For the first time since I moved to Mackenzie, I found myself spending time outside WITHIN the city and I was disappointed to discover that while I was still surrounded by beautiful landscapes the playgrounds themselves were unsafe and there was no place families with young children could gather.

The Journey to 200,000 - Leanne McKinnon from Mackenzie, BC

The Search for a Playground.

The only maintained playground in town was at the elementary school designed for older kids and not unsteady toddlers. It’s not accessible during recess, lunch or after school. This left us the other 2 playgrounds in the community. All run down and poorly maintained and because of these conditions other people didn’t go there to play.

As a new mom looking to meet other moms I found this very frustrating.

By trade, I am a nurse and have a keen interest in reading books on child development. The playground provides opportunities for physical, social and emotional development for children. Playgrounds and the opportunity to’ free play’ with other children can be an important developmental step for children and the benefits can extend to parents as well, acting as an important socializing area open to parents of all socio-economic statutes.

On our yearly vacations to other cities, we visited some fabulous playgrounds full of children playing freely and had picnic tables, water fountains, bathroom facilities etc. These were not just playgrounds but they were community spaces that people were drawn to.

In these other cities, I got to watch my daughter explore the limits of her body and saw the pride she felt when she managed to climb up something for the first time. I enjoyed watching her interact with other children and saw the joy that brought her. We would enjoy taking her to different playgrounds within walking distance of where we were staying so she could explore new structures.

Why can’t we have this in Mackenzie?

Between 2016 and January 2018, I wrote letters to the District expressing the importance of playground and community spaces to families and children in the community. I encouraged others to do the same and I believe 15 people expressed their concerns.

The BCAA Play Here $100,000 Grant

A coworker I connected with suggested I put in an application with the BCAA Play Here $100,000 Grant.

Mackenzie had applied and made it to the Top 10 the year before and had quickly fallen behind in the voting so I was not keen on doing this, however, I felt that after 2 years of emailing and saying “How can I help?”, I didn’t have a choice and needed to say “yes”.

I was fortunate to be surrounded by a group of like-minded and motivated moms who had moved to Mackenzie from other communities. They all knew life could be better for our kids and were willing to work to make it happen.

With the support of the District, I picked the location for the playground, wrote the grant application and organized a video shoot for our submission with just a few days before the submission deadline.

We found out we made the Top 10 a week before it was officially announced and the rest is a blur of busy!

This successful campaign had the full support of the community, District office, city councillors, local businesses, local charity groups, other northern BC communities, the local radio station and, most importantly, a committed group of mothers that kept the campaign at the forefront of everyone’s thoughts for the entire 3 weeks of the campaign.

The majority of planning for the campaign happened over playdates and naptimes.

We even organized “The Great Mackenzie Pie Face and BBQ” to encourage people to vote. The group of involved mothers traded off children and could be seen at the mall with young children in tow reminding people to vote every day. The mom that designed all of our amazing online graphics, flyers, posters and banners did so with 2 school age children and a 6 month old beside her!

 Mackenzie, BC BCAA Play Here 2018 Winner - Northern BC Community Playgrounds

On Sept 28th, 2018 we built our new Mackenzie, BC playground as a community. With a team of volunteers it took 2 days to built.

The Recreation Center offered childcare for a few hours on both days of the build so everyone who wanted to participate could. The BCAA crew said they had never seen this before and seemed genuinely impressed!

The playground was built late in the season I have only had a chance to take my daughter there a few time and every time we went we joined other children playing!

I am so grateful we had such a supportive community and such an amazing group of mothers who took this project and made it the success story it is. I can’t wait until next summer and am hoping to spend many hours at our new playground!

 Mackenzie, BC BCAA Play Here 2018 Winner

Aviva Grant for $100,000

Our second opportunity for $100,000 from Aviva came a short time later and the deadline for this submission was Sept 18th.

The District had sent the Aviva Grant information to myself and another mother who had created a “Mackenzie Community Spaces” community group to advocate for great outdoor spaces within the community.

We could not think of anything that would mobilize the community to vote again only 5 months after the BCAA win. I was thinking this opportunity would just need to pass us by.

Out on a Bike Ride, I met a local Youth Leader…

While out for a bike ride I stopped to talk to a couple I knew. My daughter wanted out of her “chariot” to play with their 2 kids. This playtime gave us a few extra minutes to converse and the Youth Leader I was speaking to was just given the building we were outside of. He said he would be looking for grants to renovate the building to create a much-needed youth center.

This center would be used for various youth-serving organizations and he wanted to create a “drop-in” center for youth in the basement.

This was the idea that would generate excitement and motivate the community once again!

We submitted our idea and assembled a team of 4 people who would drive the marketing, this time we had one dad in the crew! Our plan was to follow the same strategy that had won us BCAA.

This contest was different though.

This was a national competition and we had 2 huge disadvantages.

  1.  The size of our community
  2. The 3 hour time change (for the voting time). The eastern provinces had 3 more hours of voting than us, this disadvantage was especially relevant on the final day of voting.

We did have one massive advantage though, we knew how to win and we had an established support network that we just needed to reactivate. In the first few days of voting, we were ecstatic; our strategy worked and we immediately placed in 5thplace out of 188 Big Idea Contestants nationally!

The North Unites in Mackenzie, BC for the Aviva Community Grant

The Race to Stay In Top 10

And then we fell to 10thplace (only the top 10 moves on to judging where 3 prizes of $100,000 would be awarded).

The bigger centres in the Eastern provinces were offering large prizes on social media and were drawing votes that way. We knew we had to step up our game and increase our presence in the community.

We stepped up our presence at the mall, became more aggressive online and reached out to a Facebook group “HYPG “ in Prince George, BC for help.  I sat at the mall every last day of the campaign at lunch and dinner time with another mom who was as eager as me for this project to succeed. People would say, ”I voted already!”. We would give them a high five, thank them for their support and ask them to dig deeper into the contact list.

On Day 9 all the main campaigners went to bed wondering if we would still be in top 10 when we woke up the next morning. The rest of the competition for top 10 had a 3 hour head start on us and we were barely hanging on when we went to bed that night, only maintaining 10thplace by a small margin.

We had a strong game plan for the next morning, we just needed to survive the night. The next morning we all work up early and the messages started, we needed a tally to find out what place we were in! We were all amazed, we were still in 10th, and we still had a chance! We had a person walking to every local business and getting them to vote, we had a presence in the mall, we were at the high school at lunch time, and I was at the senior’s center.

Our same graphics designer from BCAA was housebound with her now 9 month old baby but she was still an important part of the final push. She got kicked off Facebook for too much activity and I had to give her my account information so she could continue to share on that platform! The radio station was is in the same place as the seniors center so I was giving them minute by minute updates of our placement and they would relay that to the community, encouraging them to vote!

At noon we dropped to 11thplace but with the team gathering votes in the community, we managed to claw our way back to 8thplace by 2pm. We were confident we had made Top 10 but weren’t sure until we were notified officially by Aviva a few days later.

We had done it! We had won another $100,000 to make our community better for the youth!

Becoming a mother made me want to make the small community I live in a better place for my daughter.

I want her to have the same opportunities to learn, grow and play that children in other communities take for granted. I want youth groups and dance to be thriving when she is old enough to join so she has the chance to join these if she wants. I wanted her to have a safe place to “hang out” if she needs that. An indoor, safe option that would be an alternative to the bottom of “Little Mack”-the local ski hill.

With both competitions, I was fortunate to be surrounded by like-minded people who not only recognized the need for these things but were also willing to act on it and sacrifice hours of their time to ensure the campaigns were successful. I will be forever grateful to everyone that worked so tirelessly on the BCAA and Aviva Campaigns as every single vote every person brought in was crucial to our success in winning $200,000 in a 6 month period!

Now that’s it’s over I don’t know what to do with all the time on my hands!



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