After dealing with a tragic and preventable death in her ER seven years ago, CUPE 835 member Deanna McCarron felt compelled to take action.
The Nova Scotia health care worker had seen a steady stream of teenagers ending up in the ER at the Yarmouth Regional Hospital after drinking and driving. The tipping point came when she had to tell a father she knew that his son was dead, after being part of the team that had fought to save him.
“It crushed me. I said to myself, ‘If I can prevent even one or two kids from ever being in that position again, I’ll do it,” says McCarron, who works as a respiratory therapist.
Out of tragedy has grown the wildly popular and successful Kidzact hip hop dance crew. With teenagers of her own, McCarron knew how popular hip-hop was. She’s taken that interest and channeled into a program that diverts kids out of the ER – signing onto the crew means pledging not to drink, smoke or do illegal drugs.
Kidzact also empowers and builds confidence. “The kids are more able to resist the peer pressure…they have a positive focus and way of life.
“The whole goal behind Kidzact is to get kids to do as much as possible. The saying stands for ‘kids take action take as much action as possible’.” When the program started, the kids were in charge of everything from set design to stage management, with McCarron – who has a background in ballet, tap and gymnastics - as their choreographer.
Today, the crew has expanded to street performances, and chalked up a recent win at the Millennium Dance Festival. Fresh off that win, the Kidzact crew raised the roof at CUPE Nova Scotia’s division convention this spring.
McCarron sees the physical and mental transformation that dancing brings to teenagers. “I’ve had lots of feedback from teachers and parents about how their marks improve in school because have more confidence in themselves. It’s not just physical activity but the mental conditioning that they go through. Music has always been used for therapy. Movement with your body is another way of going through therapy,” she says.
Having an outlet for self-expression is also key. “In hip hop you can put your own personality into it – that’s what kids like about it as much as they like the music,” says McCarron.
The results are inspiring not just for McCarron, but for the town of Yarmouth, which is facing economic hard times. “The kids are seeing that they aren’t limited in what they can do. They can do whatever they want to do – and it doesn’t have to be restricted to dance, it’s anything they do in their life.”
That feeling is infectious, she says. “The kids are breathing new life into the town, into the adults.”
By volunteering her time, McCarron keeps Kidzact fees low so there’s no barrier to participate. Participation has grown exponentially, and now McCarron is looking for provincial government funding to hire some of her former students as dance coaches.
McCarron also touches many lives as a respiratory therapist – a job she’s been doing for the last 26 years. The Yarmouth Regional Hospital’s community focus means McCarron sees deals with births, traumas and emergencies. She also helps patients manage chronic conditions with medication and education.
McCarron clearly loves helping people at work and in the community. She credits her father for inspiring her. “He was always helping someone…that’s just the way he was.” She carries his community spirit with her wherever she goes. “You go out every day doing what you feel compelled to do, and what motivates you.”
On June 23, CUPE is relaunching Communities Day. It’s an annual celebration of public services and the people who deliver them.
This year has a special focus on CUPE members as community builders. We’ll be profiling the vital role members play — on the job and in their spare time—building strong communities. Get involved in Communities Day by visiting cupe.ca/communities.
We’re offering a CUPE sweatshirt to the first ten members who are profiled!