Three-year Grad Track program builds resilience in middle-school kids
Somewhere in Hamilton, a Grade 8 student is researching the high-school courses she needs to become an electrician. Another plans to study translation at university so he can help others the same way he helps his mom every day. A third is connecting with ﬁlm and theatre professionals to learn about a career in set design.
These anecdotes may not seem overly remarkable—until you understand that these middle-school students didn’t enter Grade 6 with big dreams for their future. So what is prompting them to imagine something more?
The answer is Grad Track, Hamilton Community Foundation’s three-year pilot program to help two groups of middle school students—one in each of Hamilton’s school boards—discover what they’re good at (and enjoy) and develop the learning skills they need to stay on track toward futures they’ve chosen for themselves.
Grad Track is part of ABACUS, HCF’s initiative to put more students on the path to post-secondary education, including trades and apprenticeships. Grad Track reaches out to middle-school students who could beneﬁt from ABACUS programming but who are not as likely to show up for traditional
extra-curricular activities. The program combines one-on-one mentoring, enrichment opportunities, goal setting, peer interaction and parent involvement to encourage each student’s social, emotional, cognitive and academic growth.
Jen Pearson is Grad Track’s learning coach. Over the past three years she has seen each of the 40 students almost every day, by turns playing the roles of mentor, caring adult and supportive friend. She has helped students learn to trust, cope with uncertainty, recover from setbacks and identify potential careers.
“Back in Grade 6, a third of them wanted to be YouTubers,” Jen says. “Two years later, they’re talking about being vet techs, civil engineers, ﬁreﬁghters or journalists—careers that match their interests and personalities.”
Formal evaluations also show promise. Students are more responsible, resilient, kind and collaborative after two years in Grad Track. They’re better advocates for themselves and they can talk about how short-term actions could have an impact on their long-term goals. As one student says, “When you make mistakes it teaches you how to ﬁx them.”
Resilience is probably the most important thing students learn. “I can’t say: yes, this kid is on a clear and steady path to go to post-secondary,” Jen says. “These kids live in a complex world and anything could happen. What Grad Track does, is help instill an ability to overcome the odds.”
Jen will stay with the Grad Track students through their transition to Grade 9 this year, helping them connect with mentors and resources in their new schools.
HCF will apply what is being learned to shape ABACUS’s future directions. Time will tell whether Grad Track has made a difference: an evaluation initially funded by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario is planned to follow the students beyond Grade 8, with the potential to track indicators such as high-school attendance, grades and post-secondary enrollment.
Jen already knows that the interpersonal component of Grad Track has made a difference. “Kids won’t show up unless they trust you. Parents won’t get involved unless they know your name.
“Programs alone don’t change people,” she says. “It’s the relationships that do.”
Excerpt from 2019 Annual Report
National initiative draws on local knowledge
Green Shield Canada (GSC)—the country’s only national not-for-proﬁt health and dental beneﬁts provider—is partnering with HCF to create a new model of corporate philanthropy that draws on the unique knowledge of local community foundations.
Through GSC’s new Six 4 Six community granting initiative, the company is investing $1 million in health care in each of six Canadian communities and is working with HCF to facilitate the design, implementation and evaluation of the entire program nationally. The approach aligns well with Green Shield Canada CEO Zahid Salman’s overall vision for the organization. “Access to better health for all Canadians is the core of our corporate mission. We are conﬁdent that our philanthropic partnership with Hamilton Community Foundation advances that goal and will leverage services for Canadians in the critical areas of oral and mental health.”
In Hamilton, GSC’s $1 million investment includes $780,000 for granting to local priorities and a permanently endowed fund for continuing impact. Locally, oral health is an urgent—and mostly overlooked—need. More than 185,000 Hamiltonians have no dental insurance, for example. The Six 4 Six investment is already improving life for hundreds of them through grants which enhance the City’s Dental Health Bus, provide dentures for low-income seniors, and fund a pilot project to help people on Ontario Works resolve oral health issues that are preventing them from gaining employment.
“We want our giving to have more focus and align with our corporate strategy of creating shared value,” says GSC Board Chair Sherry Peister. “Because of the expertise and relationships community foundations have, they can help us reach deeper into local communities to address the most urgent priorities, and then evaluate and measure the impact we are having.”
The partnership has been a learning process. “There is a lot of trust and transparency as we work out this new model,” says Sherry. “The community foundation has been wonderful to deal with.”
“GSC is values-driven; investing in the community is in their DNA,” says Matt Goodman, HCF’s VP Grants & Community Initiatives. “But they are also evidence-driven. Working with our community partners, HCF can provide the data about local needs and interventions that work. It’s an exciting, effective model.”
Excerpt from 2019 Annual Report
Musical connects newcomer students to Indigenous ways of learning
In Denise Montgomery’s Grade 6 music class at Hess Street School, students are learning about pitch, volume and pacing. They’re also learning about the symbolic importance of Indigenous instruments, the role of women in Métis communities, how to pronounce words in Michif and the proper way to ask for an Elder’s help.
The Song-Bird and the Healing Waters is an innovative musical production facilitated by the Métis Women’s Circle. Dr. Carole Leclair, a Red River Métis and a Circle member, has helped the students learn a song. “The play is about the healing energy in the natural world and how to care for it,” Carole tells the 21 students who stand in a circle around her. “The song has sounds, not words. That way, everyone can sing about caring for the earth, whatever language they speak.”
Carole believes strongly in the power of the project to build a bridge between Indigenous cultural values and Hess Street students, who come from more than 30 countries. “Newcomer students are sometimes confused by expectations around integration,” she says. “They respond very positively when I talk about the comfort and affection Indigenous people have for our heritages—that we can take part in the Canadian mainstream and still cherish our values.”
Students perform a variety of roles in the production. Some are singers and drummers. Others will work with a Métis sound engineer to record nature sounds and incorporate them into the score. Then there are the actors, who will learn from renowned storyteller, Aaron Bell, how to embody their animal characters. Others will learn about the interconnection between music, nature and animals from acclaimed Ojibwe ﬂute player and artist, Rene Meshake.
Denise, the music teacher, is Métis-Cree-Dene and also a member of the Women’s Circle. She adapted the traditional Indigenous tale into the musical. “I wanted people to see the beauty of our culture and the importance of taking care of Mother Earth,” she says. The students are paying attention. “Canada is a country of diversity and we need to acknowledge the traditions and culture of the people who were here ﬁrst,” says the Grade 8 student who narrates the play. “It’s not like a regular play,” says a Grade 6 student. “This is actually important. If we keep polluting the world, there will be no world to live in.”
Excerpt from 2019 Annual Report
Bus service connects rural seniors to more than shopping
The five-seat minibus stops outside Linda Wildhagen’s Waterdown home, and the driver gets out to help her gingerly make her way down a slippery driveway. She’s hardly settled in her seat before she’s enveloped in the warm chatter. How are the grandchildren? How has she been surviving the recent ice storms? Did she know ground beef was on sale?
The rural seniors’ grocery bus, which runs twice a month in Flamborough and Ancaster and once a month in Glanbrook, is ostensibly a low-cost, door-to-door transportation service for ambulatory seniors who can’t easily get to the store without depending on friends and family for a ride. In reality though, the $7 round trip is about much more.
“It’s a social occasion,” Linda acknowledges. “Most of us are on our own. Because of the bus, we know about each other’s families. We send birthday cards. We go to other social events together.”
Flamborough Connects is the lead partner on the project, with assistance from Glanbrook Community Services and Ancaster Community Services. Initial funding came from the Ministry of Transportation. Support from Hamilton Community Foundation has allowed the project to continue while the three agencies collaborate on a long-term sustainability plan. The service is popular in each of the communities, and some weeks there’s a waiting list.
A primary goal is reaching seniors at risk of social isolation. One in five residents in Hamilton’s rural area is over 60 years old, says Amelia Steinbring, executive director of Flamborough Connects, and without the grocery bus, some of them don’t get out at all.
“Helping seniors stay in their homes and manage independently is a huge motivator for us to keep it going.”
For Linda, the bus represents freedom. But it’s also proof that people are paying attention. “When you’re elderly, you’re invisible,” she says. “This bus makes you feel special. We’re so grateful that there’s a community out there that cares about our age group.”
Excerpt from 2019 Annual Report
We believe in creating a city where everyone feels that they belong, can be who they are and love whomever they choose. In honour of #PrideMonth, we’re spotlighting five programs we support that serve LGBTQ+ people.
Queer and trans youth collaborative
- After the closing of the Well, Hamilton’s only LGBTQ+ resource hub at the time, the Queer and Trans Youth Collaborative working group came together. Support from HCF helped provide training to youth-serving social service organizations to better engage with young LGBTQ+ Hamiltonians.
The Rainbow Railroad
- For many LGBTQ+ people around the world, the threat of state-enabled murder, violence and persecution is a daily reality. Toronto-based Rainbow Railroad helps them to escape from these home countries and relocate somewhere they can live their lives in peace and comfort. We’re proud to support this important and life-saving work via the Ray Brillinger and Cy Hack Fund. Watch this powerful video on the work of the Rainbow Railroad.
- Every student deserves a prom – one that’s safe, welcoming and joyful. In 2008, the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board initiated the Rainbow Prom, a positive and safe place where all students can express their gender identities and sexual orientations. We’re proud to support this now annual tradition in Hamilton.
- Post-traumatic stress can have a negative impact on mental and physical health. This program at North Hamilton Community Health Centre addresses the high rates of trauma in the LGBTQ+ community and the lack of physical and mental health programming specifically for LGBTQ+ folks in Hamilton. Through yoga, participants engage in a healing experience in an affirming, safe and supportive space.
- Sometimes folks just need a place to engage with others and feel comfortable. The Kaleidoscope program, a partnership between Kiwanis Boys and Girls Club and NGen Youth Centre, is a LGBTQ+ youth circle that provides a safe and positive space for participants to share experiences, receive peer support and simply be themselves.
Honourable mention: The Unicorn Fund
- “All LGBTQ+ people need places of support, opportunities to shine and a chance to speak their brilliant truth.” This newly established fund will directly benefit LGBTQ+ kids and their families through granting.
Our Future Intended blog is an ongoing series that spotlights some of our most recent granting in areas such as physical activity, Indigenous communities, literacy, food, community theatre, seniors and more.
The latest Vital Signs data on seniors in Hamilton suggests that the number of people aged 65 and older is significantly increasing. Hamilton can and must be an age-friendly city. We are working towards that goal by supporting a number of programs that provide services for seniors.
Hamilton rural seniors’ grocery bus project
- At St. Matthew’s House, this program that starts with preventing food insecurity ends with improving quality of life for seniors, as the food delivery team develops relationships with seniors to find out the other needs they may have. Read more about this program here.
Music for Memories
- The power of music is truly wondrous. Sweet sounds of the past can ignite memories even for people suffering from dementia. The Music for Memories program at Alzheimer’s Society of Hamilton and Halton gives patients access to iPods and specially curated playlists. The result – happy memories associated with the music – can be extremely beneficial to quality of life.
Senior Women4Change learning series
- If knowledge is half the battle then this series of workshops from Hamilton Council on Aging is a major boon for seniors looking to improve their health and well-being. From housing and transportation to recreation, financial entitlements, community services and civic engagement, the workshops, run by volunteers, serve to inform seniors about the resources available to them.
Seniors’ symphony experience
- Love classical music? Love being a senior? You’re in luck! Designed with seniors in mind, the Seniors’ Symphony Experience at Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra includes a series of perks including discounts, free performances, a Talk & Tea series, Classical 101 talks at senior centres and more.
- Creative expression is an important part of the human experience at all ages. Seniors in Dundas have an amazing opportunity to access the arts through the Aging Artfully program at Dundas Valley School of Art. By offering this program for free, DVSA is able to engage seniors who may be facing social, economic, physical and mental health challenges.
Would you like to learn more? Check out this Vital Signs chat with experts discussing the latest data on seniors and aging in Hamilton. You can also watch this episode of Vital Signs TV called Is Hamilton an age-friendly city?
With such a rich heritage of live theatre in Hamilton, it certainly does feel as though “all the world’s a stage”! Here are just a few examples of programs and organizations supported through HCF grants that enhance Hamilton’s tradition of live theatre.
- Operating grants for community theatres
Operating support for community theatre is key to a thriving performing arts culture. Through the Alfred & Joan Robertshaw Memorial Fund, we’re proud to support the day-to-day operations of a number of local theatres including Theatre Ancaster, Hamilton Theatre Inc., Players’ Guild of Hamilton Inc., Village Theatre Waterdown and Theatre Aquarius. Read more about the Robertshaws’ love story and community theatre legacy here.
- Hamilton Festival Theatre Company
The professional development of a new generation of artists in Hamilton is essential to sustaining our city’s cultural renaissance. The Artistic Leadership and Entrepreneurial Training Program is an arts education initiative from Hamilton Festival Theatre Company that does exactly that. Participants work with theatre artists and mentors to develop their skills and their own works, attend a diverse range of performances, and help mount the annual Frost Bites Festival.
- Shakespearience In-class Experience
Students in elementary and secondary school get a taste of the Bard through this program that turned 20 last year. But the experience is also designed to enhance confidence and communication skills. Through the work of Shakespeare, students develop soft skills that help them in future endeavours, both in their personal and professional lives.
- Theatre Aquarius Ovation Outreach Enrollment Program
The performing arts should be enjoyed by everyone. Theatre Aquarius makes good on this idea by providing 160 no-cost registrations for various education programs to youth who would otherwise be unable to afford them. These programs help participants develop life-skills and self-expression, working to increase diversity and instil a passion for the arts.
- The Connect Theatre Project
After last year’s Connect Theatre Project presentation of Guys and Dolls, Dundas residents are in for another special treat this summer. Local youth will flex their creative muscles for a production of Mamma Mia! No Dundas high school currently runs a musical theatre program so this project, rehearsed and performed at Dundas Baptist Church, provides an opportunity for young people to feel empowered and engage in a large-scale and high-quality Broadway musical.
Rodent chow might not be on everyone’s wish list, but it is at the top of the Owl Foundation’s needs. Pine shavings are a close second.
For over 40 years, the Owl Foundation has worked with Humane Societies, vets, SPCAs and fellow rehab organizations to care for orphaned and injured owls (and other birds of prey as needed). Their goal is to nurse them back to health and reintroduce these magnificent birds into the wild. Owls that cannot be reintroduced into the wild are considered for placement in foster parent or breeding programs.
Food and bedding are necessities for the Owl Foundation. The supplies support the 1200 or so mice and rats that are used to feed the injured owls. Support for these feathered friends comes from the McCallum, McBride and Malloch Foundation Funds.
Excerpt from Legacy winter 2019 newsletter
Soroptimist International of Hamilton-Burlington recognizes that education is one of the most effective means to bring positive change to a woman’s life and that supporting a woman’s desire to improve her own and her family’s lives benefits the entire community.
Soroptimist International works to improve the lives of women and girls in 120 countries. Locally, through their “Live Your Dream” program, Soroptimists provide financial assistance to women who are sole supporters of their families to pursue education improves their skills, potential and feelings of self-worth. Most of the women receiving assistance are survivors of sexual assault, poverty, or addiction.
It’s a need clearly identified in HCF’s 2018 Vital Signs Report: Hamilton women living in poverty face multiple barriers to improving their education and, as a result, the path to prosperity. Supported by an HCF grant, local Soroptimists are responding with plans to increase the number of awards.