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Adopt-A-School: Nanaimo School Seeks Funding to Build Child Safe Room

11 years after a teacher’s call led to the creation of Adopt-A-School by the Vancouver Sun Children’s Fund Society, the need for more than ever

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Eleven years ago, it was an elementary school teacher who exposed the brutal truth about the effects of poverty on the mental health of children in Vancouver’s poorest neighborhood.

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In an email that went viral, Carrie Gelson described frequent episodes of mental and emotional breakdowns of young children in her class unable to live in a stupor caused by hunger, lack of sleep, disturbances at home and all the myriad stresses that poverty brings. — poor hygiene, lack of proper clothing, hopelessness.

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She appeals for help from the community and her statement ends with an expression ahead of its time: “Because every child in Vancouver matters.

The implications were so shocking that they led to the creation of the Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-A-School program, which since 2011 has distributed $9.5 million to hundreds of schools to feed and clothe poor children and provide emergency assistance to families. This year, the schools are asking for $2 million.

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In the case of Admiral Seymour Elementary School in Gelson – located near the dense public housing projects along the East Hastings Street corridor – the aid provided a sensory room where children overwhelmed with life could be brought to equanimity, a replacement for the locker room where children used to go to cry.

Margaret Jorgensen was principal of Admiral Seymour and Lord Strathcona Elementary School in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Running schools in what has been called the poorest postal code in Canada gives him unique insight into the mental health issues of poor children.

Jorgensen says the past 11 years have seen a precipitous increase in the number of children showing signs of poor mental and emotional health, particularly since the advent of COVID-19 and now with a cost of living crisis forcing more of families in poverty.

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“Carrie’s plea – take it and multiply the need by 100,” said Jorgensen, who is now retired and is a board member of the Vancouver Sun Children’s Fund which administers AAS.

“What Carrie said 11 years ago, we hear now in many schools. Over the past three years I have had many parents, teachers and principals call me for advice – asking for support and strategies to find ways to meet the emotional needs of their students” , said Jorgensen.

“We need to support children’s mental health and social-emotional learning by having safe spaces with self-regulation tools and teachers knowledgeable about how to deal with trauma.

“It’s all built into the new curriculum, but the resources aren’t there to support it,” she said.

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One school that needs such help is Park Avenue Elementary in Nanaimo — a downtown school like Admiral Seymour — which is asking for $12,000.

While $4,000 is needed to feed and clothe students, the bulk of the request — $8,000 — is to turn an empty classroom into a safe, sensory room where school counselor Sterling Jamont and another mental health professional can work with stressed students and offer them refuge.

“I was one of those kids,” Jamont said. “I grew up in a house where there was a single parent with mental illness living in poverty.”

It shaped his career path: “You know, you get into (teaching) trying to make the world a better place.”

The room should be furnished and made comfortable so that children in crisis feel safe – a sofa, bean bag chairs, a rug, alternative lighting. He will need specialized equipment and soothing tools to help children recover from a meltdown caused by anger, frustration, grief and distress.

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“I had a child come in two days ago and I could tell he was on edge. His face was smudged. He kind of burst into tears. Her great-grandmother had passed away, but her home isn’t much of a place to talk about those feelings.

“We have students from refugee families where there are 11 people at home. So you may have to come here to do your homework, as finishing it at home is not an option.

“We could have a place where if you flip your lid in class and yell at the teacher, you can sit on a bean bag and yell it, or listen to music, look at a lava lamp – just have a chance to regulate because it’s hard to be a child in poverty.

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How to make a donation

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1 ONLINE: Donate online with a credit card at vansunkidsfund.ca.

2. PHONE: To donate by credit card, call 604-605-2264.

3. MAIL: Complete the donation form here and mail it to the address on the form with completed credit card details or a check/money order payable to Vancouver Sun Children’s Fund Society.

Vancouver Sun Children’s Fund Society

The Vancouver Sun Children’s Fund welcomes donations from readers year-round to enable us to help hungry children. Donations are tax deductible and 100 percent of donations received go to grant projects to help needy children in British Columbia.

Contact: Michelle Roebuck, Fund Administrator, at [email protected]or call 604-605-2264.

CLICK HERE to report a typo.

Is there more to this story? We’d love to hear from you about this or any other stories you think we should know about. Email [email protected]

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