December 24, 2012

Vancouver’s Sidoo family steps in to ensure Selkirk Annex gets its playground #vansunkids

By Gerry Bellett

St. George’s student Jordan Sidoo sold $4,000 worth of pen sets over the last two weeks so some time in February 73 elementary school children in East Vancouver will get a new playground.

Lord Selkirk Annex had applied to The Vancouver Sun Children’s Fund for a $7,800 grant to erect used playground equipment (from Tillicum Elementary) to replace its condemned wooden structures now used by its Kindergarten to Grade 4 students.

The school board has ordered the old playground to be removed and principal Lorraine Terretta was facing having just one piece of plastic climbing apparatus for all the children to use.

“We really need more than that,” said Terretta.

But earlier this week the Sidoo family came forward and said they would cover the full cost of installing the equipment and Terretta was delighted.

“It’s just wonderful and it’s such a huge relief for us to have the family offer to do this. I’m thrilled,” said Terretta.

David Sidoo (centre) and his family Manjy (r) and son Jordan (l) have responded to our Adopt a School story that the school needs $7,800 to erect a new playground at Lord Selkirk elementary school in east Vancouver (Mark van Manen/PNG)

Jordan’s father, David, an investment banker and former pro football player said he would match the money his son raised.

Jordan is a member of the St. George’s service committee which involves itself in social causes for the poor and disadvantaged.

“As a family we wanted to do something for Christmas and it’s really nice being able to help this school. The kids shouldn’t lose their playground,” said David Sidoo.

Sidoo is a generous supporter of the Adopt-a-School campaign and since last year has donated tens of thousands of dollars to a number of schools to support breakfast programs for impoverished children. He also supports an after-school program at Strathcona Community Centre to keep children safe when school is over and during holidays.

In addition Sidoo has committed to join with The Vancouver Sun Children’s Fund to cover the cost of keeping a number of emergency breakfast programs going in Vancouver schools. The programs were underfunded by $52,000 and in danger of being closed by the school board.

A few days before visiting Selkirk Annex with his wife Manjy, and son Jordan, 16, Sidoo was in the Downtown Eastside with his son and some business associates distributing 300 blankets and warm clothing to homeless people on the street.

“When you see such poverty you have to do something. After we’d handed out all the blankets and stuff we later saw a few guys sitting on a bench wrapped up in them and I told Jordan ‘take a look, that’s why we have to help,’” said Sidoo.

Jordan has committed to bringing other members of St. George’s service committee to help Selkirk Annex parents dismantle the Tillicum playground sometime in February. Tillicum is getting new equipment donated by Port Metro Vancouver.

St. George’s is one of Vancouver’s most prestigious boy’s school, one favoured by wealthy families. But the school is also the base for a remarkable number of initiatives that help the less fortunate.

A number of parents are involved in the Mom-to-Mom organization which offers food, furniture and mentorship to mothers struggling with poverty in the Downtown Eastside.

The school also has an Each One, Teach One program through which students become mentors for students in various inner city schools including the Alderwood Family Development Centre a one-year program for children with disruptive behaviour or emotional problems. Each One, Teach One was founded by St. George’s associate principal Brian Lee and has been offering mentorship to Alderwood students since 2001.

The Alderwood students are from six to 12 years old – at-risk students many suffering from poverty, the effects of abuse or with mental health issues or learning disabilities. They are paired with Grade 11 and 12 St. George’s students. These students involve them in activities such as art and ceramics workshops, swimming, kayaking, tubing and visits to attractions such as the Vancouver Aquarium.

It’s the meeting of two different worlds, the privileged and the poor and it’s hard to say whose lives are affected more.

“It’s best to sit back and see what happens,” said Lee who says the program teaches St. George’s students things that could never be learned in a classroom.

“It’s extraordinary. It’s the informal face time between the mentee and the mentor that cultivates the relationship and that’s where the magic happens,” he said.

“Our youth are profoundly impacted by the children they are partnered with who demonstrate true resilience in the face of their challenges,” said Lee.

When the program started there were about 20 students who applied. This year there have been over 100.

St. George’s Grade 12 student Calvin Chang has been mentoring kids for over a year.

“It’s been a really enjoyable experience. When you first meet the kids they are fairly hesitant to talk but later they will open up. On a trip to the Aquarium my kid was able to share a lot with me and told me about his troubles at home and growing up,” said Chang.

He said he’s learned a lot about communication and conflict resolution. He’s also learned a lot about himself. Such as?

“I wouldn’t want to be a social worker. I enjoy doing this but I’m not suited for it as a career,” he said.

For Jordan Sidoo, exposure to Alderwood where he has mentored children with severe mental handicaps has left him with the twin realization of the privileged life he enjoys and the hardships children experience through no fault of their own.

“It’s sad because what happened to these kids with mental handicaps was that their mothers might have been drinking during pregnancy and so they have a disorder that will affect them the rest of their lives,” he said.

“These are just kids – like us – and they’ve never done anything wrong.”

gbellett@vancouversun.com

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