MOUNT FOREST – The newly formed Block Parents of Mount Forest is now accepting volunteers into the program.
On April 26, the program passed its final step to becoming official when Wellington North council unanimously approved the program’s formation.
The Block Parent program started in London, Ontario in 1968, and in 1983 a national board was created.
“A block parent is someone that is home and willing to help a child or other person should the need arise,” said Barb Leigh, acting chair of the Block Parents of Mount Forest.
The program consists of a network of safe homes for people of all ages to access in an emergency situation. The familiar red and white Block Parent sign is a symbol that indicates a police-screened and Block Parent-trained adult is available to offer assistance should the need arise.
Block Parents place their sign in a street-facing window when they are home and available. The sign indicates to community members that a police-screened and trained adult is available to place a phone call if a child or community member needs assistance. Each sign has its own certificate number that is used to connect the sign with the sign holder.
Leigh said she saw the need for the Block Parent program to return to Mount Forest after hearing of multiple alarming incidents in the community involving children.
She was concerned when she heard the Block Parent program in Mount Forest had dissolved years ago due to a lack of volunteers.
“We often hear stories on social media about kids being teased, bullied, or just needing help,” Leigh said.
“In February I read a post on social media about a young girl walking her dog being followed by an unknown man.”
Leigh said bringing the Block Parent program to Mount Forest took more time and effort than anticipated.
“On Feb. 16, I made a Facebook group to get a feel for interest and put the word out that we needed a board of directors, so we got that in place as well,” Leigh said.
Leigh then called the Block Parent Program of Canada’s national office and was guided through the process of launching the program in Mount Forest.
Leigh then decided she needed assistance from a closer group, so she called on Tara Mondou, chairp of Waterloo region’s Block Parent program.
“She was fantastic, she has held my hand and guided me all the way,” Leigh said.
“She told me what was needed, where to start, sent me paperwork and spent a huge amount of time answering my questions.”
Getting the green light from the OPP was the next step. Leigh said this was the longest step in the entire process, as it took about five weeks.
“After we got that, I went to a town council meeting and got the approval, and here we are.”
Leigh said the Block Parents of Mount Forest have only been taking applications for just under 2 weeks.
“Once we get those in, we can carry out the vulnerable sector checks,” she said.
“We have given out approximately 11 applications in the past 10 days.”
Leigh said to become a Block Parent, the first step is to make contact either by the program’s Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/groups/5264272226946447 or by emailing them at firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange to pick up an application.
Prospective volunteers and anyone over the age of 18 who lives in the home will be required to complete a vulnerable sector check or to provide a copy of a recent one.
“Once all that has gone through with success, someone will set up a date to meet and check out the home for any obstacles, like scary dogs or obstacle courses to get to the door,” Leigh said.
Leigh added someone will also make sure the sign can be seen from the street.
“Once that is passed (and the) required corrections are fixed, the sign is signed, and they are registered as a Block Parent.”
Leigh said people often ask her how much time is required to be a Block Parent.
“The answer is as simple as there is no minimum or maximum time that you must volunteer. If you are home and able to receive anyone in need, put the sign in the window.”
“When you are not home, or even if you are but just don’t want to be disturbed, take the sign out.”
There is also a FAQ on the program’s Facebook page.
The Block Parent program is 100 per cent volunteer based, and Leigh says without the volunteers, it can’t happen.
“We can do this,” Leigh said.
“I have seen this community pull together and work as a group on a whole bunch of things, and I really hope this will be one of those things.”
Leigh said she hopes to expand the program to Arthur in the near future.