November 17, 2012

Adopt-a-School: Grouse Mountain elevates young spirits

By Gerry Bellett

Later this season Grouse Mountain pass-holders will be asked for donations of warm clothing and footwear — new or slightly used — to help clothe children throughout Metro Vancouver for whom winter is the time when poverty bites hardest.

“There are children who will need help and this is the time when families buy new winter clothes for their children who have outgrown last year’s,” said Grouse Mountain Resort public relations manager Sarah Lusk.

“We will be asking our pass-holders to support the Adopt-a-School appeal,” said Lusk.

Lusk said the date of the clothing drive will be announced once staff have a system in place to receive donations.

Grouse is supporting The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-a-School campaign and has provided free visits to two Vancouver inner-city schools this year and will host about 200 schoolchildren from Surrey’s Cougar Creek Elementary next April.

The first group of 98 were from Admiral Seymour elementary — kids who were able to finish the last school year on a high which is not hard when you’re 3,500 feet above sea level.

That they were here — guests of the resort and sampling all that the biggest tourist attraction in Metro Vancouver has to offer — had not been in the cards when school began in September last year.

Then the chronically troubled existence of these children living within the social bleakness of the Downtown Eastside was mainly of concern to those whose jobs or professions placed them within reach.

At that time it was shaping up to be yet another year of struggle for a school with one of the most vulnerable student populations in the country, with fall on the doorstep, winter to contend with, hunger, lack of proper clothes, inadequate footwear and, for many, home lives so disfigured by poverty as to put their teachers on the edge of despair.

But in September 2011, a simple letter reflecting those realities by Grade 2 teacher Carrie Gelson published in The Vancouver Sun would claim the attention of a city.

It would lead the newspaper to launch its Adopt-a-School campaign to help Seymour and other inner city schools equally needy.

And it would also lead last June to the small child clutching Gelson’s hand so tight that it hurt as she clung on in fright as the Grouse Mountain SkyRide began its ascent.

“I think riding the Gondola will be the thing they’ll talk about most,” Gelson said that day. “There was a lot of deep breathing from some of the little ones who’ve never done anything like this before.”

Among the group hanging on to Gelson was a small child who barely attends school.

“She only comes in about twice a week. Her mom has other small children and she’s struggling.”

But the girl desperately wanted to visit Grouse Mountain.

“All last week she was so anxious she kept saying ‘I want to go. I want to go. But I’m scared I’ll miss it.’”

“Well, the bus was 10 minutes late in leaving and we were just starting out when I saw her coming along the sidewalk with her mom so I jumped off and grabbed her and said ‘Oh I’m so happy you made it.’”

As Gelson got back on the bus, Sergio, the class oracle, observed: “Miss Gelson, that thing with L—–. Very awkward.”

Lusk had worked with other donors to put the day together.

“Westcoast Sightseeing provided the transportation and GFS, (Gordon Food Services), one of our food service providers, put together lunch,” said Lusk.

“The idea was to give kids an experience and mountain adventure they might not otherwise enjoy,” she said. “Grouse Mountain’s in their backyard — they can see it — and we just love getting them up here. This is a great opportunity to help a school do something it might otherwise not be able to do.”

During their five hours on the mountain they saw the grizzlies, went on nature walks and staff took them to the Alpine Cabin to explain about the plants and animals living on Grouse.

There was also the half-hour lumberjack show which, amid all the clowning around, displayed the skills of the province’s most iconic workers.

It was notable that many of the children sitting there watching the axe-throwing and tree climbing were dressed in coats that had been donated to the school last winter.

“Most of them were dressed properly. We had a few we had to help out this morning,” said Gelson. “But I recognize a lot of coats we received as donations.”

Senior teacher Andrea Wilks said she had never expected to be taking the school up Grouse Mountain.

“The year didn’t start like this,” said Wilks, whose school has been to the Zajac Ranch, dragon boat racing and now, Grouse Mountain, since Gelson’s letter.

“There’s a lot of smiling faces here today,” said Wilks. “The kids are having opportunities that they couldn’t have enjoyed without the help of the community. It’s just a fabulous experience for them.”

Schools that would like clothing from Grouse should contact Adopt-a-School at adoptaschool@vancouversun.com or 604-605-2654.

All clothes will be sorted and cleaned at Grouse Mountain and will be delivered to schools needing them.

gbellett@vancouversun.com

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