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walter paetkau from archway community services

Article by Jody Paterson, Executive Director of Board Voice

Walter Paetkau was a young Mennonite on a mission when he first arrived in Abbotsford in the 1960s with a passion for community development.  

More than half a century later, those seeds that Paetkau nurtured have grown into 90+ diverse community social services programs that Archway Community Services now provides.  

What began with two staff has grown to 450, and more than 1,000 volunteers,” says Archway Executive Director Rod Santiago.

“But the way we do our work has never changed. Walter was all about pulling people into the work very deliberately. It’s never about waving an Archway banner, it’s about building a strong and healthy community.”  

Archway groups its multitude of programs and services into four focus areas:

1. Social justice and equity;
2. Counselling children, youth and families
3. immigrant integration and multicultural services
4. Recycling.

That last one includes contracting with the municipalities of Abbotsford and Mission to sort the communities’ recyclables – an undertaking that provides jobs to 50 people, many who have experienced barriers to employment, says Santiago.  

The pandemic brought challenges from all directions as Archway pivoted to be able to keep services going safely. The organization quickly formed a COVID-19 planning committee that met daily and then weekly.

That was later augmented with a second team charged with envisaging how the pandemic might be affecting the organization six months out, and a year out, and what needed to be done to prepare for that. 

With clientele ranging across all age groups, genders, cultures and personal circumstance, Archway adapted services in whatever way worked best for those being served, Santiago continued. 

With the support of the United Way and funding specific to COVID-19, Archway enhanced its Food Bank and the existing 12 satellite sites, including adding one that specializes South Asian and halal foods – important in a community where 25 per cent of the population identifies as South Asian, and where the dietary needs of Syrian families require checking in on outdated paradigms. 

Food hamper pickup shifted to drop-offs. Outreach was increased for isolated seniors. The Archway parking lot became a meeting space for the men’s anger management support group.  

Through the Better At Home program funded by the B.C. government and administered by the United Way, Archway expanded its support to seniors in their own homes to reach more isolated seniors through services including the delivery of groceries and prescription medications, dog-walking, and social visits.   

Youth were taken on a virtual trip to Playland, with cotton candy and mini doughnuts dropped off at their doors to get things started. 

The move to virtual programming in some cases opened services up to far more people, notes Santiago. The Family Centre at Archway is now attracting up to 400 people for its English and Punjabi activities presented on Facebook Live. 

The pandemic highlighted the tremendous need for mental health and wellness supports, adds Santiago. Archway hopes to expand supports to do more in that area in the future, along with Indigenous inclusion and adding more seniors’ services in Abbotsford.  

The funding that supports Archway’s work is as diverse as its services, says Santiago. The organization receives funding from seven B.C. government ministries as well as from federal ministries, municipal contracts, corporate donors and fundraising. It also generates revenue through its own social enterprises, including and interpretation and translation service. 

That service provides certified interpretation in more than 75 languages that is used for court proceedings and in communities across the Fraser Valley and Lower Mainland. 

Archway loves seeing any of its programs adapted for use elsewhere, says Santiago.   

young boy with a starfish pack backpack

The Starfish Pack program, for instance, was launched a few years ago to address the problem of a weekend without food for children who depend on school meal programs from Monday to Friday.

The take-home packs provide two breakfasts, lunches and dinners, and are generous enough to share. The Rotary Club of Abbotsford has played a major role spearheading the effort.

Starfish Packs are now in 35 Abbotsford schools and 20 other B.C. communities. “That’s part of who we are at Archway. We share ownership and solutions – we don’t keep them to ourselves,” says Santiago.  

Archway is always seeking new opportunities to partner with others in the community to address emerging needs, he adds.

In a community with a square-kilometer footprint that makes it the biggest city in B.C. but lacking a sophisticated public transit system, even transportation is a social issue.  

Archway has jumped into that need in a community van program that helps the most vulnerable in the community get where they need to go.  

“At Archway,” says Santiago, “we ask, ‘what is the need? What are we going to do about it, and who needs to be part of the solution?'”

Archway founder Walter Paetkau who led the organization from 1969 – 2000

At Archway we ask, ‘what is the need? What are we going to do about it, and who needs to be part of the solution

Rod Santiago

Archway Executive Director

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