St. Marys Journal Argus
Thanks to an unprecedented “mid-year” dispersal of funds from the St. Marys-specific Anna and Isabel Chesterfield memorial fund, the organizers of a weekly free breakfast program for elementary school students in St. Marys won’t have to worry about paying for food and transportation for participants in 2014-15.
Last week, GOALS (Giving Our Adolescents Living Skills) program originator Chris West and Little Falls Public School Principal Helen Brockman accepted a cheque for $5,000 from the Stratford Perth Community Foundation (SPCF), which administers the Chesterfield memorial fund. Michael Kennedy, descendent of the former St. Marys residents for whom the fund is named, made the trip from his home in New York State to make the presentation, along with two SPCF representatives.
During the 2013-14 school year, GOALS offers a free breakfast every Thursday morning, cooked and served at the Pyramid Centre, for an average of 42 Little Falls students. According to Brockman, some of the school’s teachers sometimes volunteered cooking or serving. But the program is largely run by a team of independent volunteers originated several years ago by West and operated out of the basement kitchen of St. Marys Presbyterian Church (a block away from the predecessor school to Little Falls, the former Arthur Meighen Public School), and subsequently relocated to the Pyramid Centre under the coordination of the Town of St. Marys Recreation department.
“It really helps (the students) in the classroom because they have the energy to concentrate on their school work,” comments West, who was inspired to originate the program after receiving a mail-out from the Canadian Auto Dealers Association — of which his Downtown Pontiac-Buick-GMC dealership is a member.
Little Falls Principal Helen Brockman agrees. “When the 42 of them walked through the doors on a Thursday morning last year, and you would ask them ‘what did you have for breakfast?’ and they got excited about it, you really saw it working,” she said. “Because some of these kids don’t always get a breakfast at home.”
West quickly adds, however, that the nutrition benefits are only a part of the GOALS concept. Regular guests at the breakfasts include mentors and/or role models from the community, who provide presentations to the students about their work. Even just by providing the program and using anonymously-donated funds to provide rides to those children who require them through the Town’s Mobility Bus, GOALS establishes a model for students to learn from about community involvement and the value of taking care of our youth.
“The thing I didn’t realize, really until I’ve now seen some of the ‘graduates,’ so to speak, is the self-esteem piece,” West explains.
The mid-year dispersal from the Chesterfield fund arose after the SPCF handed out only $15,000 of a planned $20,000 in grants for the 2013 year. A decision is made annually by the SPCF board of directors about the quantity of pay-outs from the interest earnings on what was originally a $230,000 bequest; with $5,000 still available, Foundation Executive Director Heidi Spannbauer contacted Kennedy and asked if a mid-year dispersal would be acceptable.
“They seem to value my input,” Kennedy says.
The fund was launched in 2010 in honour of Kennedy’s mother Isabelle and his grandmother, Annie Chesterfield, who passed away in St. Marys in 1940 after raising six children on her own following the death of her husband in the early 1900s flu epidemic. Since 2010, grants have been approved to initiatives that served the St. Marys community, with an emphasis on youth but without an emphasis on sport.
“It’s one of the largest funds that (SPCF) take(s) care of,” Spannbauer explains.
She added that, given Kennedy’s desire to have an impact in the community, and in particular his stated goal of helping build self-esteem among youth, the GOALS program seemed an obvious recipient.
The Kennedy/Chesterfield fund, she concludes, “is providing an example for other fund managers across Ontario for what some of the best practices are in this field, in terms of getting the community involved in the decision-making.”