A few years ago there was a feeling within the Vancouver Rotary Club that perhaps it was time to redirect its charitable energies to something other than providing breakfast for hungry children attending east Vancouver’s John Norquay elementary school.
“We’d been doing it for a long time and some people felt we should move on to something else. But I’m glad all that fell through and we kept going,” said Rotary Club treasurer Bill Dauphinee.
Compassion fatigue is something any cause that is dependent on the generosity of donors has to contend with.
How long does that flush of concern last and can it be expected indefinitely?
So far the Rotary Club’s doggedness has extended to 13 years, during which it has fed thousands upon thousands of breakfasts to impoverished children who otherwise would have sat in class hungry and dispirited.
During this time the club has donated $86,000 to the cause and about $11,000 in books for the school’s reading program. And again this September when school returned, breakfast was waiting at Norquay as the Rotary provided $6,000 for food and another $1,000 for books.
Norquay, a large elementary on Slocan Street between 29th and Kingsway with 600 students, is not classified as an inner-city school and as such does not receive special funding.
It is in an area of comfortable homes and its school population is not deemed to be as at-risk as some of the Downtown Eastside schools. Nevertheless, a sizable number of children come to school hungry each day and sometimes as many as 100 are being served breakfast.
Rotary’s fidelity has been a blessing, said resource teacher Pat Shankel.
“They have done an enormous amount of good over the past 13 years,” she said.
Without the help, there would be no breakfast program as such things are not funded by the school board; where they exist at all is due to the generosity of private donors.
“There are many needy families in the area with children not having breakfast. So the program is crucial for the good of these children and the fact that Rotary has been committed to our school for so long, well, we’re very, very grateful,” she said.
In addition, a number of Rotary members come into the school to help children read.
“Many students are second language learners and they don’t have the opportunity to speak one-on-one in English, so the Rotary’s help means a lot to them,” said Shankel.
The Rotary Club’s involvement with the Vancouver school district goes beyond providing breakfasts and books and has resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars being donated over the years.
The club has spent $46,000 in Norquay and other schools on the CALS program — Computer Assisted Learning Solution — a specialty program aimed at teaching children who have difficulty reading.
“The program is very effective for increasing literacy and computer skills — it gets a kid’s reading level up by two or three years in a very short time,” said Dauphinee.
“But the problem was we were buying single licences that only lasted a year. Now, we are buying permanent licences so a school can use the program forever,” he said.
Then there is the Rotary’s stay-in-school program, which has so far committed $96,000 and provides scholarships for high school students in danger of leaving school without graduating with the ability to attend university.
“That program runs at Gladstone Secondary. It’s for kids bright enough to attend university but who might be dropping out because of family financial situations. Some kids feel they have to quit school and get a job to help out the family,” said Dauphinee.
Two students each year receive scholarships.
The Rotary Club will provide $7,000 — the first $1,000 to help them graduate — and $1,500 a year for the four years they attend university.
Domenic Wong, 21, who is studying psychology and English at Simon Fraser University, was one of the first students to be helped by the scheme.
He will graduate next year and plans to stay at university and pursue a master’s degree in psychology.
“The (Rotary) scholarship was a great help for my mother, who is a single parent,” said Wong, who graduated from Gladstone in 2008.
With Dauphinee in his downtown Vancouver office was Jack Zaleski, a past president of the Vancouver Rotary Club. Dauphinee runs his own accounting business. Zaleski is an engineer who also manages the John Hardie Mitchell Family Foundation.
Zaleski said the foundation was committing $15,000 a year for the next three years to support a breakfast program at some needy school.
“We recognized what was being done at Norquay but until we read the (Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-a-School) articles we didn’t realize how many schools there were in the Eastside needing help,” he said.
By Gerry Bellett (firstname.lastname@example.org)