Single working parents get welcome lift: After-school programs provide invaluable help

Single working parents get welcome lift: After-school programs provide invaluable help

It’s a story that crops up in almost every school – the single mother working morning, noon and night for minimum wage and still unable to feed her children properly. As a composite, she’s a symbol of hopeless fortitude as well as a rebuke to those who equate poverty with indolence. And here she comes again, this time described by Karyn Bell, the executive director of Kateslem Youth Society, which provides after-school programs to seven Coquitlam schools. “We’ve got a mom in one of our elementary schools and she works two jobs. She has three kids … dad’s passed away.”

She has two minimum wage jobs, one in the morning and one at night, and hardly ever sees her kids.

“And she’s really grateful for the help we give her,” said Bell, whose organization provides afterschool activities for 200 children in elementary and middle schools.

“The program is for kids whose parents are working all the time so the kids don’t have anyone to go home to. We don’t want them hanging around on the street.”

For 15 years, the Kateslem Youth Society has offered homework support, crafts and other lessons from 3 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Bill Trask, principal of Ecole Banting Middle School, says the society provides invaluable help.

“Over the years, our community has benefited immensely from the academic support, emotional support, and leadership mentoring this program offers,” said Trask. “Not all the kids are at risk, but they might be on the verge of ‘hanging out.’ When we use that term, it’s the beginning of the end.”

The society is applying to The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-A-School program for $10,000 to provide lunch to 50 children a day who are hungry because, says Bell, they have no money to pay for school lunch and are too embarrassed to ask for help.

“We know they are hungry, but they don’t want to be identified as kids with nothing,” she said. “We want to make lunches so kids can come in before school starts, grab

a lunch, put it in their lockers, and be like all the other kids.”

In the summer, children are provided breakfast, lunch and a snack, but not while school is on. Staffare noticing signs of hunger.

Bell’s daughter, Brianna, a program leader at Como Lake Middle School, says she knows a boy who “is starving all of the time.”

“His mom’s a single mother who’s really hardworking and loves her two kids, but is gone a lot of the time,” she said.

Her mother adds: “She’s paying huge rent living in a rundown place and doesn’t have excess money.”

And her son will eat whatever he’s given.

“He doesn’t mind what it is. He’ll come in and take five pieces of toast. Whatever food I have left over, I put it in a bag and he takes it home, but he usually eats it before he gets there,” said Brianna.

Being able to deliver lunch would be of great benefit to families, says Bell.

“The whole point is to feed kids who would otherwise go hungry. Some schools don’t have a lunch program, and kids come in with nothing.

“If they go and ask, they’ll be given a granola bar or an apple, but that’s not lunch. These children are going from eight in the morning to late in the day. They need a lot more than that.”

By Gerry Bellett (

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