March 1, 2013
From a single story comes profound change #vansunkids
By Shelley Fralic
The one thing a newspaper reporter learns within minutes on the job, and even more so after years in the trenches, is that the power of the press can turn a single story into a profound agent of change.
In the fall of 2011, The Vancouver Sun learned about the plight of many elementary school children right here in our own backyard, boys and girls who were showing up at school every morning without breakfast, without coats and boots to protect them from the cold and rain, without a lunch or snack, without even the basic school necessities that any right-thinking adult would expect in a world-class city in one of the richest societies — and countries — in the world.
But the truth was out there, told to us by a Vancouver inner city school teacher who wondered aloud, and with much emotion, just how we as a community could allow this to happen.
So did we. And we were compelled, as the proprietor of a powerful printing press, to do something about it.
And so we told teacher Carrie Gelson’s story, and that of her Grade 2/3 class at Admiral Seymour elementary, but we soon realized we needed to do more beyond just reporting that story, and so we decided to form a new initiative within our 32-year-old Vancouver Sun Children’s Fund charity.
We called it Adopt-A-School, and our plan was to ask readers to help us help Carrie’s kids, and others like them.
We knew that what we were doing was a bit risky, that by bringing this troubling issue to the attention of readers that public schools and their boards and unions, not to mention the education ministry, might balk at the publicity and our intentions, especially given our newspaper has pulled few punches in its coverage of the perpetual teachers vs. government vs. parents vs. taxpayers contretemps.
We worried, too, about asking readers to help us supplement diminishing school board budgets, to fill the gaping holes left by an unsteady economy, to assume the job that some parents wouldn’t, or couldn’t, do.
But we decided that none of it mattered, that all the potential politics and perceived roadblocks were not important.
The kids were.
And, to our delight, Sun readers agreed, responding without hesitation, donating cash and clothing, school equipment and field trips, coming to the rescue with such generosity that by the spring of 2012, our newly launched project had raised close to $800,000 (donated funds of $350,000-plus were matched in the first year by the Children’s Fund) to distribute. We did it all over again in the fall of 2012, raising another $400,000.
Along the way, we invited schools to apply for AAS funding, to tell us how we could help, and when they did, we told their stories, assessed their needs and began writing cheques. Those grants, more than $1 million to date disbursed to several dozen Metro Vancouver schools, and boosted by corporate donations, have paid for breakfast and lunch programs, warm clothing, field trips, and supplies and equipment essential for students with learning disabilities such as autism.
The process has been overwhelming, and gratifying, but the truth is that our job is not yet done.
There are more than 1,600 public schools in B.C., and we know that we have only scratched the surface. We know, anecdotally, that there are many more children throughout the province going to school with empty stomachs, lacking the basic necessities to succeed in life.
While we’ve made good progress in some areas of Metro Vancouver, it’s time to spread the word. We still have AAS money in the kitty (see details in the accompanying story), and are not only anxious to put it to work but committed to maintaining the AAS momentum.
Which means we’d like to hear from more schools with needs that we can help meet, both in and beyond the urban limits, because what we have learned is that Adopt-A-School isn’t about inner city vs. outer suburb, or rich vs. poor, or teachers vs. parents, or private funding vs. public funding, or even pride vs. prejudice.
It’s about the readers and their newspaper giving back to the community.
It’s about the kids.