James McKenzie owns F440 Racing Challenge, a go-carting business in Tsawwassen. He was the first supporter to partner with Ray-Cam and its NasKarz program.
“There is nothing simple about organizing NasKarz logistically,” Alex Vasiljević says. “You can’t take anything for granted. The only simple thing you know is that the kids need what we all need: attention, love, support, and a car.”
“NasKarz works to build a Circle of Courage with each one of these kids, and to inspire a sense of belonging, mastery, generosity, and independence. It isn’t possible to do any of that without help and support from funders, other agencies, businesses, and people. You’d think that taking kids go-carting would be simple but it isn’t. James was the first local person to step up, and he went out of his way to get things rolling.”
Because Ray-Cam falls under the City of Vancouver’s auspices, the NasKarz program must follow standard risk-management regulations. It needs to obtain the same approvals as do kayaking and indoor rock-climbing school field trips, for example. Companies that offer activities services to the City must provide at least $2 million in insurance coverage per outing.
“When NasKarz began there were only a couple of places you could go-cart, and neither had adequate insurance to meet the City’s regulations,” Vasiljević says. “James came forward and bumped his insurance up to enable us to do it, and he also gave us a non-profit rate for the go-carting itself.”
“We began with weekly outings and about eight to 14 kids,” Vasiljević says. “We made it a race circuit, and gave points for showing up and best personal time. We were creating a new template so that it’s meaningful. Kids work toward something in every component of the program.”
John Norton, an adult addictions worker for Watari Research Association, also plays an instrumental role in the program. He did one-to-one counseling with some of the kids.
“He loves these kids to death, and when we started talking about the idea of doing something for them he jumped right on board,” Vasiljević says. “He interviewed people for staff positions, provided moral support, and helped develop programming ideas. Watari is also providing some funds, and it was one of our earliest partners because of John, and he’s been doing this on his off time as well as during his work day.”
With go-carting underway Ray-Cam struggled to get a mechanics component going. That’s when they found Pedal Power, a Vancouver bike shop, to help them provide a Build A Bike program. It worked well because it was short term. Kids were able to keep the bike and would receive a helmet and safety instructions. The program paid for second hand bikes. The kids would strip them down, build them back up from scratch, and could customize it for tricks. The kids owned the whole process with the help of staff from Build A Bike, and about eight kids went home with a bike of their own. “The Build A Bike program proved to us that the kids had an interest in mechanics and could follow it through.” NasKarz used Build A Bike as a pilot for moving into car mechanics. The car community in the Lower Mainland has bought in and put its money where the rubber meets the road.
“The automotive and cooperate community has been great,” says Vancouver Police Department Detective Constable Tim Houchen. “They’ve done everything from private donations and sponsorship to cooperating with equipment.”
“These companies have provided support, parts and products to move the NasKarz project far beyond my expectations,” Houchen continues. “Once people understand what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, they’re eager to get involved.”
NasKarz gets the majority of its funding from the National Crime Prevention Centre, through its community mobilization funds. It initially provided $50 thousand for one staff position. Today, through its crime action prevention fund, it provides $100 thousand for staffing, operations, program expenses, and snacks.
“A lot of it is parenting,” Vasiljević says. “It involves a ride to the program and some food to tide them through the day. Food is a main thing. There will always be food. Sometimes they just come for that because they’re not eating at home. We see it as a snack, and they see it as their significant meal of the day.”
“The Board gets that,” Vasiljević continues. “I even heard from one of the members that he thought the old Board wouldn’t have funded us, but this Board has made the shift into the type of thinking that will actually address this problem.”
In November of last year, the NCPC Board funded only two programs in BC and NasKarz was one of them because they felt it just made sense.
“The Board is allowing us to test the ground and proceed because it’s working,” Houchen says. “And, ICBC is also making the shift to understand that there is something they can do that will actually decrease rather than increase their risk of theft from the Downtown East side population.”
“Each person that has helped NasKarz out has a similar story or reasons that make it personal and touching for them,” Houchen adds. “This project brings those stories and reasons to the surface. It’s so powerful.”