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Saugeen Valley Children’s Safety Village pivots to virtual programming

The Saugeen Valley Children’s Safety Village (SVCSV) near Hanover has pivoted from in-person to virtual programming due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Above: Dave Guilbault, safety program administrator at SVCSV, conducts a lesson last fall. (Contributed Photo)

HANOVER – The Saugeen Valley Children’s Safety Village is counting the days until it can welcome students from across Grey and Bruce counties back to the village.

The Safety Village, located on a five-acre parcel of land at the Sulphur Spring Conservation Area near Hanover, had just begun welcoming students to the facility last year.

Marilyn Rosner, president of the Saugeen Valley Children’s Safety Village board of directors, said a group of students who visited previously had rave reviews.

“There were so many of them that said they had never had that fun of a day in their life,” she recalled. “One boy was celebrating his birthday that day, and he told us that it was the best birthday ever.”

Like nearly all other organizations and businesses, the COVID-19 pandemic has altered the day-to-day operations of the Safety Village.

Rosner explained that the Safety Village is based on interactive learning – students not only hear what to and what not to do in a situation, they are given a chance to put those lessons to the test in hands-on exercises – and not being able to welcome students to the physical village meant changing the way things are done.

Enter virtual learning.

Dave Guilbault and Kristina Parsons, the Safety Village’s two part-time instructors, have spent the early part of 2021 creating virtual programming that can be delivered to local schools. Five area schools have expressed interest in having virtual programming in their classes.

“We’re going to provide packages to the schools so kids can take some things home to show their parents what they’ve been working on, and what they should be looking at (doing) at home,” said Rosner.

The virtual programming will include videos and presentations, as well as games through the platform Kahoot, which make the lessons interactive for students.

“They’ll have fun with it,” said Guilbault. “We’ve designed these virtual lessons to be engaging and not just us talking.”

The added benefit of creating the virtual programming is that it will be available for the Safety Village to use in the future in the case of inclement weather or if a school would prefer to stay in class.

“I don’t think virtual will ever go away, personally, because there will be times we have to make a virtual presentation because of weather or whatever,” said Guilbault. “The programs will always be there and ready to go.”

Virtual programming is set to begin this month in conjunction with the Safety Village launching a new website – www.saugeenvalleycsv.ca.

Passionate about education

Guilbault, who retired as Fire Chief from the Wellington North Fire Service last year, is passionate about fire education. His career began in Ottawa, where he was part of the team that brought Sparky the Fire Dog to life.

He said his career has “come full circle” now that he is “having fun again teaching fire safety education.”

“Beginning my career in Ottawa in fire safety education and now coming to the Village to teach, it’s a lot of fun,” he said. “Fire safety education, to me, is a life skill. We’re teaching (the kids) a valuable life skill.”

Guilbault says his efforts will be focused on CO and smoke alarms, escape planning and kitchen fires.

The Village features many buildings, including Sparky’s Apartment, which is an interactive room that simulates kitchen and home fires. Students will learn how to properly put out a stove fire, as well as how to escape from a house fire. The door to the apartment is heated, simulating a fire in the hallway outside, and a smoke machine simulates an in-home fire. Students learn how to properly plan and escape from the room two separate ways.

“Like a rabbit, always have two ways out,” said Guilbault.

The Safety Village also features interactive fire/paramedic and community/police classrooms, a Lions conference room, washroom and kitchen facilities. Outdoors, a mini-community complete with buildings, paved roads, traffic lights and road signs, and hands-on demonstration sites including farm safety.

On-site programs include fire safety and evacuation, community helpers, 911, personal safety, road safety, anti-bullying, farm safety and more.

“We even have a roundabout, believe it or not, which parents say that they could use that,” said Rosner.

The only thing missing from the village is a fire hall, said Guilbault.

“The cement pad is poured – 12 feet by 20 feet – but we are in need of materials to build the structure,” he said.

There will also be additional programming and community events throughout the year for youth, adults, seniors and families.

The plan, as of now, is to welcome students back to on-site programming in September.

On-site programming is available in half-day and full-day increments, with the programming tailored to JK/SK, Grades 1-2 and Grades 3-6. There is no charge for attending schools.

Guilbault said he recently gave some area fire chiefs and their fire prevention officers a tour of the facility, and the excitement is palpable.

“Everybody is just overwhelmed with the potential for teaching children these valuable like safety skills. It’s something I’m really, really excited about,” he said.

“These are tomorrow’s adults … we think we can be the No. 1 place in Bruce and Grey counties to teach these safety skills.”

Supporting the Safety Village

The Saugeen Valley Children’s Safety Village is a registered non-profit charity that relies 100 per cent on donations and fundraisers to operate.

Numerous local organizations, businesses, service clubs, corporations and dedicated individuals support the Safety Village annually.

At the beginning of the Safety Village, three objectives were set out by the board of directors: build the facility, programming and sustainability.

“We’re working really hard on sustainability,” said Rosner.

The Safety Villages hosts several events each year, such as golf tournaments and the Safety Gala, to raise funds. Rosner said it’s important to note that every single penny donated to the Safety Village stays at the Safety Village.

“When someone donates $20 to the Safety Village, $20 goes to the Safety Village. That’s very different than many charitable organizations,” she said.

General donations are greatly appreciated by the Safety Village and can be made through its website at www.saugeenvalleycsv.ca.

For more information about the Saugeen Valley Children’s Safety Village or to book programming for your school or classroom, email admin@saugeenvalleycsv.ca.