Four years ago staff in a Surrey heating supply company were disturbed at discovering the extent at which impoverished students in their neighbourhood were suffering.
“We were reading The Vancouver Sun about what was happening and decided we had to provide an inner-city school with emergency funds,” says Ashley Bouchard, general manager of Raven Hydronic Supply.
Raven isn’t a huge company – it has only seven employees – but the $5,000 it provided that year (and every year since) was transformative for some students at Frank Hurt Secondary, said principal Mike Stickley. This act of corporate concern and social responsibility has enabled the school to help students in ways it could not have done before, he said.
“We have students living in profound poverty,” Stickley says.
“There is no food in the house, clothes are hard to come by, it’s usually a single-parent household with multiple dependents – nothing but the bare necessities, no extras.”
However, rules govern how schools spend money, and poverty relief isn’t in the rules.
“Raven has given us the discretion to help these students with their simple needs, with food, clothing – we’ve even been able to help parents with things like a hydro bill.
“It puts us over the top in terms of being able to help these kids out,” Stickley says.
Of his school’s 1,280 students, about 40 per cent could be described as needy, with 10 to 15 per cent “profoundly impoverished.”
This year Raven is increasing its grant to $5,500 as there seems to be greater need, Bouchard said.
“At the end of the year we get a report on how the money was spent and it’s just heartwarming, some of the stories,” she says.
For instance there’s the student who wanted to take a carpentry course but couldn’t because he needed steel-toed work boots, but had no money to buy them.
“That student has now graduated from Kwantlen (Polytechnic University) and he still has the workboots and the carpenter’s belt we bought him,” Stickley says.
Then there are the prom dresses and graduation expenses that have been paid for, the money that sends Aboriginal students to seminars each year, or buys cleats and pays sports team fees, or grocery cards when there’s no food in a home and no money.
And then there’s the tragedy of the seven children who lost both parents.
“The kind hearts of the Raven employees … well, we’re pretty proud of what they did here,” Stickley says.
“Both parents passed away and now seven kids are living with an auntie and uncle. We helped them out with Safeway gift cards and things, but they have a van that needed repairs.
“Six of the children go to different elementary schools so they need that van. We used Raven funds to pay for parts to get it running and our shop did the work and fixed the van.
“It’s an incredible story,” Stickley says.
By Gerry Bellett (firstname.lastname@example.org)