Helping Students in Need

My fatherís gift fifty years ago changed my life forever.

I entered military college in 1962 at the age of 16.Despite having excelled in high school, I had a very difficult time making the transition to university academics.I didnít have a lot of money so it was very difficult to keep up socially with my friends.

In November, during my first leave off campus, I telephoned my father from a telephone booth in Dorval and told him that I wasnít going back.He told me to stay where I was and he drove from Cornwall to talk to me.During our conversation, he handed me a hundred dollars and told me to go back.My family was barely middle class in those days and we lived from pay cheque to pay cheque.A hundred dollars was a lot of money then and I donít know how he managed to scrape it together.

In any event, I went back, graduated from the Royal Military College in 1967, had a great career in the military and the public service, and raised a wonderful family.But I never forgot that hundred dollars.

About seven years ago, some friends and I started a practice of asking a local high school to find three hard-working students who were in financial need and we would give them each a $75 gift certificate from the local shopping centre to help them with their Christmas shopping.More often than not, they used the money to buy Christmas gifts for family members.

Three years ago, I decided to create a permanent program to help high-school students in need.The goal was to help them graduate high school.I called it the Help Our Students (HOST) Program. Students who met the criteria - hard-working and in financial difficulty - are given $100 each month of the school year, for a total of $1,000.They can spend the money however they choose.Based on experience so far, recipients have primarily used the money to buy food for themselves and their family, to buy school supplies and to help with family expenses.

Confidentiality is an important element: only the school officials who need to know are told the recipientsí name.†† The only requirement imposed on the recipients is to write me a short letter at Christmas time and at the end of the school year to tell me what impact the HOST Program has had on their lives.

In the beginning, I solicited money from family, close friends and a few local businesses.In the first year, we provided financial support to three students Ė one from Cairine Wilson Secondary School and two from St. Matthew High School.

As donations increased - from Parent Councils, organizations, individuals and school fundraising activities - we were able to support six students in the second year.Lester B. Pearson and St. Peter joined as participating high schools.This year, the HOST Program has added Gloucester and Mother Teresa High Schools and we will give out $12,000 to deserving students.

Donations are made through the participating high schools; they forward the funds to their school board for a tax receipt.The funds are returned to the HOST Program back through the school.Donations can be earmarked for a specific school or without restriction.As the Founder, I cover all administrative costs so that all donations go directly to the deserving students.

Three times each school year, I send each donor a Report to Donors newsletter that includes a financial statement and excerpts from the recipientsí letters to me.Their stories are both heart-breaking and uplifting.Despite their difficult situations, they all have a positive attitude.

The long-term plan is to support at least one student in each of the fifty youth high schools in the city of Ottawa.If you want to help, please visit my web site at www.host-program.org. You may change someoneís life forever.

Published by the Ottawa Citizen Ė December 2012