If there is any one thing that Greater Sudbury does well, it's taking care of those who have had a troubled path to walk in life.
More than 500 people packed the Steelworker's Hall on Brady Street May 30 to help raise funds for the N'Swakamok Native Friendship Centre Alternative School Scholarship.
The N'Swakamok Native Friendship Centre, in partnership with the Rainbow District School Board and the Ministry of Education, established the Alternative School 21 years ago. In that time, 190 students have graduated with their Ontario Secondary School Diploma.
Justin Trudeau, Liberal MP, Papineau, Que., was the guest speaker for the event.
He said the fundraising dinner was a way to help empower youth by investing in their futures.
"I'm talking about the importance of investing in our young people, giving them the tools, not just to be leaders of tomorrow, but to be leaders today," he said. "It's not just about raising money for them, but to have a full hall come together, believing in young peoples' capacity to shape the world is extremely important as a message of encouragement as well."
He said the message is as important as the tools the community provides those youth in order to achieve success in their lives.
"The tool is giving them the capacity to succeed but the message is we are willing, as a community and a society, to invest in our young kids, particularly the ones who are at risk," he said.
"A successful society is not one that allows certain groups to remain marginalized and powerless, but gives them the opportunity to thrive and succeed, and that message is one that I believe in deeply."
In 2000, the board of directors for the Friendship Centre created a scholarship program for graduates of the alternative school.
"Over the years, we've asked our local businesses and associations to donate and assist with the scholarship," Kelly-Lee Assinewe, co-ordinator of the Alternative School Program, said. "A group of people got together and decided it would be better to do a fundraising event to help raise money for the scholarship so we don't have to continually ask for funds every year."
And the centre's first fundraiser was a success, bringing in more than $10,000, according to Gerry Lougheed Jr., the co-chair of the scholarship committee.
Assinewe said the value of the scholarship depends on the number of students graduating each year, as well as the amount of money in the pot.
While Assinewe was hesitant to put any kind of number on the success rate of the school, the fact is 190 more students have graduated than would have without the facility.
By next year, Christina Kozeyah-Maiangowi will be among those students. The 21-year-old started at the N'Swakamok Native Alternative School in September 2011.
"I've been in and out of high school for about six years," she said. "I finally get to graduate in January."
She said the school offers her flexibility — "You only have to go four hours a day," — as well as ample one-on-one time with teachers. That was the most important thing for her.
"When you're in a classroom, there's only one teacher teaching about 30 kids. I was more of a hands-on learner and needed someone beside me."
As for finally getting her diploma?
"It's about time I got it done," she said. "I didn't have to get my GED (General Educational Development) and I didn't have to go back to regular school with a bunch of little Grade 9s. Just to have it is going to be so rewarding, and to move on to university — I can't wait."
Lougheed has been been a member of the scholarship fundraising committee since 2008.
"The school is amazing ... and the community has been very generous in supporting them," he said.
"When we talk about the student bursaries, we often think of people in high school, or of high school age. These graduates have come to the alternative school because they are adults, they've had children, they've had challenges in their lives, their lifestyle, their relationships, and they've decided they want to upgrade their academics so they can go to post-secondary."
But post-secondary doesn't come cheap and resources are a real issue for those graduates.
"These are bursaries that can purchase a laptop or text books, that will equip the student as they go to post-secondary to be successful, and be able to contribute to our community," Lougheed said.
"This is the very first fundraiser the Friendship Centre Alternative School has ever had, and to see 500 Sudburians literally pack the place shows our community's commitment to making sure everybody has an opportunity for a better life."
Posted by Laurel Myers