March 6, 2012

Vancouver’s Colliers adopts Hastings elementary school

by Gerry Bellett, Vancouver Sun

What does it to take to adopt an entire school?

Colin Scarlett and Colliers International are about to find out.

In response to The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-a-School campaign, launched late last year, the commercial real estate company’s local office raised $12,765, a sum that will be matched by the Vancouver Sun Children’s Fund.

Scarlett, who is senior vice-president of Colliers International, was the driving force behind the company’s decision to support Adopt-a-School and the fundraising that followed.
“I’ve got a two-and-a-half-year-old at home and a six-month-old, and I realize they are so fortunate. When I grew up I was fortunate, too, in having two parents, and proper meals and financial support,” Scarlett said.

“When my wife told me about Adopt-a-School I felt I needed to do something, I’ve been so focused on my career for the past 15 years. I want to give back to the community so I took this on as a personal challenge within the company.”

From his own pocket Scarlett matched dollar for dollar what other employees donated.

Besides contributing money, Colliers International has taken the adopt part of the slogan literally.

So during the next few weeks the 625 kids at Hastings elementary com-munity school on Franklin Street will be introduced to their new “parents” – Scarlett and other employees who have pledged to help those among them who need it most.

The $25,530 will be used to sustain the school’s breakfast program, which feeds as many as 100 children a day who arrive hungry from an east Vancouver neighbourhood which is a mixture of “homes too expensive for me to afford” and social housing, said principal Donna Emeno.

“Colliers will also help serving break-fast,” said a delighted Emeno. “But they have also offered to provide extra hands in the classrooms as well, helping out with literacy or special-needs children or those who might have behaviour issues and need help to concentrate.”

Emeno seems unable to believe her luck.

Not only does her school have secure funding for its daily breakfast but now the interest and concern of a company that has been in Vancouver since 1898.
“We’d love to have extra bodies to help at lunch or recess. In the play-ground we could use volunteers for our friendship clubs where we put a group of students who work really well together with one of two other students to ensure those students have friends to play with,” she said.

Scarlett had asked staff to consider donating time or money or both. He was surprised by the reaction.

“We’ve had campaigns before but the response rate to Adopt-a-School was phenomenal. Within 15 minutes of sending off an email I had a third of the staff saying, ‘I’m in. How can I help?’”
He put this down to the nature of the appeal.

“Many charities are faceless so it is difficult to get employees engaged in giving. But this involves needy kids in our own community. I had one dad say he wants to have his kids come with him to the school to help out. It’s an appeal that really resonated with many people – a lot more than I expected,” he said.

Within a few days Colliers International staff will be meeting to work out a schedule.

“I sit in a suit and tie in a boardroom all day and I’ve been doing that for 15 years,” Scarlett explained. “The idea of being able to come to a school and help kids rather than shuffling papers and having dynamic conversations – well, it’s more exciting to look into a kid’s eye.”

The journey from the boardroom to the classroom will provide its own education and Emeno only has to recount a recent conversation with a Grade 2 student to show the distance between plenty and want.
Hastings elementary is part of the Agriculture in the Classroom pro-gram, which brings various fruits and vegetables into schools for students to study and sample.

“That day it was B.C. pears and this boy came up and said, ‘I just loved that pear, can I take one home for my mom?’ He’d never tasted one before.”

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