Students of the Victoria High Vital Youth Program at a ceremony celebrating their accomplishments at the Baumann Centre for Pacific Opera Victoria Wednesday.

Program encourages students to give back to local charities

Dozens of students from several schools in Greater Victoria are making a difference in the Victoria Foundation's Vital Youth Program.

Dozens of students from several schools in Greater Victoria are making a difference in their community through a program that encourages students to give back to smaller, less recognized charities.

The Victoria Foundation’s Vital Youth Program aims to engage students in philanthropy by giving them the opportunity to decide which local charities to give grants to.

Each year, the foundation provides $3,000 grants for each participating school — $500 of which is added to an endowment in the school’s name, while students get to research and decide which charity to donate the remaining $2,500.

“Students start by going through a Vital Signs Report, doing some research and really learning more about their community and what organizations are working in the issue areas that they are interested in. Something that benefits the community as a whole and something that’s in the students’ own communities and neighbourhoods,” said Sasha Gronsdahl, community initiatives coordinator with the foundation.

This year, more than 75 students from Belmont, Frances Kelsey, Reynolds, Oak Bay, Parkland and Victoria high schools as well as and St. Michael’s University participated in the program.

Victoria High student Lilly Powell said the seven-month-long process of deciding which charity was the most challenging for the nine-team group before they eventually settled on the Victoria Women’s Transition House Society.

“We chose it because we were going through the Vital Signs Report and we noticed that the only thing that got a C+ was youth, homelessness and housing,” said the Grade 12 student. “We came across the youth specific programs of the [society]. We can gave half to the upkeep because they haven’t had renovations in a really long time and the other half to specifically the youth-related programs.

“I was learning a lot about some of the things that were happening in Victoria that I had never heard about before and it inspired me to get more involved because there’s so much happening that not a lot of people know about.”

Grade 11 student John Cook is one of 10 youth at St. Michael’s University involved in this year’s program. They close the Victoria Therapeutic Riding Association, a charity Cook has strong connections with.

“My sister actually went through the program there and I saw just how much it helped her and the changes it made to her life and how much more she’s able to do because of it. That was a huge reason for me,” said Cook.

“It’s been an emotional process going through the program and seeing how much people need in Victoria and being able to feel like you’re actually helping through this process.”

Kevin Cook, director of service at St. Michael’s, said the end of high school is a crucial time to instill philanthropic values in students.

“It’s so crucial at this stage when you have Grade 11s and 12s who are figuring out what philanthropy is about. It’s huge and they carry on with it through the rest of their lives,” he said.

Some of the other grant recipients include Out of the Rain Youth Shelter, the Sierra Club, Cowichan Women Against Violence Society, Cowichan Search and Rescue, Children’s Health Foundation of Vancouver Island, Umbrella Society for Addictions and Mental Health and Extreme Outreach Society.


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