Girls Giving Back: The Bishop Strachan School Helps our Children and Families

If you happened to stop by The Bishop Strachan School (BSS) last December, you might have seen a group of students, parents and staff hefting boxes of gifts into a waiting cube van. The students, part of the school’s Service Learning program, were participating in Holiday Love – an extension of Hope for Children’s Adopt-a-Family Program, which matches our CCAS families in need with donors who provide them with Christmas gifts.

This is the fifth year that BSS has supported Hope for Children and, as always, they went above and beyond – donating gifts, wrapping presents, making cards for 27 families and youth and even helping pack the truck that came to pick everything up. And they did it all with the enthusiasm and passion for helping others that we have come to expect from BSS students.

Along with families and children, the girls at BSS adopted 12 of our youth leaving care – 18-year-olds who are transitioning from foster or group homes to living on their own. The girls were particularly touched by these stories, as ten of the youth they helped were female too. “Some girls got so into helping,” says 18-year-old Carlin Domi, the Service Learning Prefect and a participant in the program. “They really connected with the youth in need. We had never met them (the youth), but we were touched by their stories and wanted to show these girls that we were there to support them.”

For Charlotte Fleming, Director of Service Learning at the school, this part of the program was a remarkable learning opportunity. “We thought it would be a meaningful connection for the Grade 12 groups to support someone closer to their own age, especially since many of our students will be living away from home next year on their own for the first time (albeit a very different experience than CCAS youth). It makes it very easy for our students to relate to these individuals since they are so close in age, and although they may have very different lives, they also share many similarities. We designed a lesson based on the Child and Youth Overview and the family profile given to us to gain a better understanding of the individual and what a day in their life might look like.”

As part of these lessons, the students were asked to consider what it would be like to live on the amount of money that a youth leaving care receives as support. They had to think about the challenges that that youth would face and what might be different about how they celebrate the holidays. The lessons add another layer to the student’s participation in the program. “We hope that through [the Holiday Love] initiative, our girls will develop an increased awareness about some of the issues which members of our community face, hopefully increasing their understanding of and compassion towards others. We want our girls to give without expectation, but because they want to,” says Charlotte.

The desire to help and support people in need is a part of the girls’ education that goes beyond book learning and which is a hallmark of working with BSS’s Service Learning Students. Patricia Ward, Hope for Children’s Community Development Officer, coordinates HFC’s work with the schools and she loves working with BSS. “These girls are so passionate about helping others and helping the community. When we ask BSS about supporting one of our events or programs we know that they will come through and that they will do a fantastic job. We are so lucky to have them as volunteers with our agency.”

BSS not only helps as part of Adopt-a-Family, but they also assist our team at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon (this year they hosted a water station), help out at our Foster Family Christmas party and lend a hand at other events, including the Golf Tournament and Scholarship Event.

For 17-year-old Emily Papsin, volunteering with Hope for Children has been a great experience, “I enjoy working with Hope for Children programs because of the direct impact I feel I have, and the incredible people I get to work with. What we do as volunteers is generally very hands-on, and we can see the direct result of what we’re doing as we do it.”

For Emily, the Adopt-a-Family program is one of the most rewarding programs the school works on. “The entire senior school is split into small groups which are responsible for the fulfillment of one family member’s holiday gift wishes. Through this project, the students know that what they are giving is really going to someone in need. It’s a very different feeling from the one you get while dropping donations off en masse. We are given a name, a story, and a wish list, which is far more motivating than the cardboard boxes and massive metal donation bins we see on a regular basis. HFC gives us a real connection to the things we wish to change, and that’s not something I’ve ever experienced with another charity.”

The BSS program is an incredible model for incorporating volunteering into the school program. The program builds partnerships between young people and the broader community and allows students to learn and develop through participation in organized service experiences that meet community needs. As Charlotte explains, “Service Learning is embedded in our school culture. It is my hope that through service work our students will create positive social change in our local community and beyond and that these reciprocal connections with community organizations create awareness and an understanding that will hopefully fuel the girls to be socially informed and responsible.”

For Carlin, Service Learning has been incredibly inspiring. She says that the program has helped her develop a love for helping others and she thinks that the BSS program pushes girls to excel. “BSS is amazing because you’re not just one girl here – you’re so many different things,” she says, describing how the school encourages them to be well-rounded and to try different things – including fostering a love of volunteering and helping the community.

Hope for Children and the Catholic Children’s Aid Society thank BSS for their on-going commitment to supporting our families and children and hopes that their story will inspire other schools to get involved with amazing volunteer initiatives like these.