Communities Move Mountains!

Incredible Friday night CLK Climb for Kids Fundraiser with fantastic music by The Teachers and the Moneyman, so many friends and supporters, terrific silent auction with a huge, surprise donation, lots of competition over beautiful homemade items, FATBOYS gift certificate and keg won by Wendy, motivational send-off by Canadian Olympic athlete Segun Makinde and NOW, over $28,000.00 raised for CLK kids. And we are not done!

Communities move mountains!

Heather Swail Climb for Kids

 

This is such a good line I need to quote Heather Swail a second time – Community Moves Mountains. Maybe this should become the byline for our project – Christie Lake Climb for Kids.

Part of the Family Team – Mairi, Liam and Colleen

We are now 44 days away from our second group trek. This time we are walking around the highest mountain in Europe – Mont Blanc. We will walk over 170 km and camp along the way. Our trek is rated as a level 4 or moderate/challenging by our trip coordinators Exodus Travels.

You are moderately fit and have an interest in remote or challenging environments. Some previous experience is required for activity based trips.

These ratings are a really good way to measure the amount of difficulty involved in a trek. By comparison, Mt. Kilimanjaro is a 6 and the ascent of Mont Blanc is considered an 8.

The bulk of our fundraising is now over except for a really great wine auction that goes until June 15.

By the way – we are happy to sell you a ticket if you want to help support us!

Our fundraising goal for this year is $30,000. Right now we are at $28,000 so I think we are going to make it. This means we will have raised over $60,000 for Christie Lake Kids programs in the past two years. And as Heather put it, we are not done!

This is the humbling power of community. When you come up with a good idea that supports innovative recreation programming for kids people gather around you.

Our last fundraiser at Fatboys here in the Byward Market brought together all sorts of wonderful people united by the desire to support something really important. The opening page of the Christie Lake webpage symbolizes what they do.

I am really struck by the approach they take with kids. They call it Transformative Recreation and what they really want to do is change the destiny for kids living below the poverty line here in Ottawa.

Transformative Recreation® (T-REC®) is our program model, guiding all of our efforts as we encourage our children and youth to build resiliency and realize success on their own terms. T-REC® is founded on a mixture of best practices in the field of social recreation, as well as the lessons of success derived from over 95 years of serving the Ottawa community. Our programs focus on developing physical, social and character skills, with the intent of developing four key outcomes:

Positive Peer & Adult Relationships

Self-Efficacy

Self-Regulation

Positive Future Outlook

The community that is coming together to support this work is truly wonderful. This includes our whole family who comes out to all the events, designs our Climb for Kids logos, contributes silent auction items and even acts as the coat check staff when needed. Community includes my oldest friend Bob Kennedy, whose band Teachers and the Moneyman played at our last event.

Teachers and the Moneyman

It includes lots of teachers from Heather’s School Vincent Massey and teachers from my last two schools, St. Greg’s and St. Anthony. It includes 24 businesses and two great bands who have supported and sponsored us throughout the year. It includes former trekkers who climbed with us last year in Peru.

A collage of some of our community supporters

Apart from the money we are raising for kids, I think the community-building is the most significant part of this experience. People are contributing their expertise and resources to help put us back on the mountain and as the project grows, the community widens.

Next week the group will gather again to hear from another amazing trekker Mike Baine who has done the Tour de Mont Blanc and has also trekked in Peru and to Everest Base Camp. He will talk to us about this trek and we will talk to the trekkers about how to prepare for the TMB. Meanwhile, we will continue to look at the figures to see when we break through the $30,000 barrier.

Our fundraising total on May 23. Now we are over $28,000

At the same time, we are actively working on preparations for Year III of Climb for Kids. We won’t announce this trip until Year II is over, but the planning is a continuous process that really only slackens when we are on the mountain.

Our Year II logo designed by Mairi McGuire

The community grows daily. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the largest group of supporters, the people who are helping us surpass $30,000 – all our donors. I know that I have at least 30 people who have contributed to my fundraising total. I am around $250 short of my personal goal of $2500 and I know that I am going to make it. Each trekker has a similar group supporting their efforts.

Community Moves Mountains, that is for sure. This is an experience that enriches the lives of everyone who gets involved. It is really great to spend lots of time on a project that brings life and hope to so many people. Thank-you to all the wonderful supporters out there and welcome to all those who will continue to join us in future days!

Climb for Kids group members at our last fundraiser

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When it comes to mental health in Canada, the gap is still too wide

The story of Clement Gascon, the Supreme Court Justice who bravely went public this week about his mental health struggles is a story we should all pay attention to.

Last week the Justice disappeared for a few hours after suffering a panic attack brought on by a change in medication and the stressors of his job. Thankfully, in this case, this story had a relatively happy ending. He was found and embraced by his community and has received nothing but support since the incident.

Today, the Globe and Mail’s editorial, In Canada, the mental-health gap continues, picked up the story and used this as an occasion to shine a light on the problems that still exist here in Canada when it comes to treatment for mental health issues.

The gaps are significant and go well beyond what is reported in the editorial.

The World Health Organization reports that in low- and middle-income countries, between 76% and 85% of people with mental disorders receive no treatment for their disorder. In high-income countries, between 35% and 50% of people with mental disorders are in the same situation. In today’s Globe and Mail article, a 2016 joint statement on access to mental-health care from the Canadian Medical Association and Canadian Psychiatric Association estimated that, of the 20 per cent of Canadians who suffer from a disorder, fewer than one in three will seek treatment.

Many can’t seek treatment. Unless you are fortunate to have a very good health plan, counselling, which can be as expensive as $200 an hour, is out of reach. Even the medication which really helps people to focus on talk therapy is out of reach for many.

It is good however that at least attitudes are changing. In my own case, my admissions of struggling with anxiety and depression were met with stony silence. I remember actually admitting to a superintendent that my condition could easily be exaggerated by undue stress. She was happy to add the stress but ignored my clear message that this could do harm. For me, this was an unforgivable misstep for someone in a position of authority.

In Canada, we need to realize that the gaps in treatment are wide unless you are well off and well connected. I have been extremely fortunate because I have friends in the medical system and a great drug plan. Most, however, are nowhere near as lucky.

As an administrator, I came in contact with many children and adults who needed really good mental health care. It was rare that they received it and I don’t know how they survived. In a society as rich as ours, there is absolutely no reason why anyone has to suffer from the silent killer of mental illness.

We are, unfortunately, at a downturn in compassion in our society right now. We are going through one of those awful cycles where the artificial budgetary bottom line reigns supreme. This is tragic and people with untreated mental health illnesses will suffer even more than most during these times.

It is really too bad that we need stories like Justice Gascon to remind us how terribly many people suffer in silence. We are a superficial society that rarely takes the time to consider the real suffering of others.

I am happy for Justice Gascon. I am grateful for the wonderful assistance and support I have received from family and professionals. I worry about the many parents and children who suffer in obscurity and I really hope for the day when we point our priorities firmly in the right direction.

Speak out on Social Justice or Become Part of the Problem

Every day now in Ontario there is another cynical announcement about another cut to our social infrastructure. While this is happening, we are now learning that over 1 million species are facing extinction in the next few years unless we make significant changes to the way we live on this earth. There is little good news out there right now and we have to start paying more attention.

Every day I read the Twitter feed. I see the posts and reposts by Andrew Campbell and others and I am thankful for his courageous work. At the same time, I see prominent educators who continue to write as if nothing is changing.

To be honest, I don’t know what bothers me more.

People like Doug Ford are destructive. These people come and go. But what really matters is how all of us respond to the destructive people who have no idea on how to build and sustain a social infrastructure.

Another way to look at this could be how we see social justice. Is social justice important? Should we stand up for a just society or should we continue to write the same inane stuff?

Some people will not utter a peep because they feel that it might ruffle feathers. Could there possibly be a better time to speak out? If not now, when?

Justice is a really important concept. It is what built our democratic society. It is what protects the weak and the dispossessed. Those who have a voice have a responsibility to speak for those who suffer from the acts of the powerful.

Strong democracies are built upon strong voices. when these voices become timid democracy fails.

Now those who suffer will include any student in our public school system in Ontario. I am not exaggerating here. When the rich and the powerful make arbitrary decisions that lead to the suffering of others this is an injustice. If you don’t make any statement, do anything to counter this injustice you are complicit.

You probably won’t change what is going on right now in this province, but your voice matters because people read what you write.

Maybe you haven’t seen real injustice, but it exists. It is real and it is pervasive and if you don’t stand up to it you eventually will be consumed by it.

Take a look around. Don’t let educators who are making their voices heard stand alone. Injustice has been stopped before, greed, avarice, and ignorance do not have to win out.

My fear for Ontario is that we will all settle into the new normal. We will stay in our comfortable corners and hope things just get a little more normal. Too many of you are not saying enough and you need to reconsider your position.

How many times do we need to see injustice happen and do nothing? It is certainly worse in other places close to us – Latin America and increasingly the United States. We in Ontario have had it really good for a long time, but this time is coming to an end.

Yes, this is offensive to some and I am sorry for this. But I read the notices every day that more teachers are being laid off and I see many educators and academics write as if everything is OK.

Everything is not OK and sometimes social justice trumps whatever else you are writing about. Otherwise, unfortunately, you become part of the problem.

This morning while reading through Twitter I found this new article by Michael FullanWhy Pedagogy and Politics Must Partner. If you think this is all just me talking, read Fullan’s article.

Here is a quote from the article that I think is really important – pedagogy and politics are linked and really need to be now more than ever before:

One item of particular significance is the relentless increase of inequity. We have found that deep learning is good for all students but is particularly good for students who are disaffected. In this domain, the pedagogical and political pathways can combine as a particularly powerful combination. Deep learning students are needed as part of determining societal solutions. The combination of deep learning (the pedagogical pathway) and political action (the political pathway) may turn out to be the strongest force we have ever seen in the cause of social justice and high-quality education essential for the rest of the 21st century.

Measuring Retirement in Stories

When I retired from my last school, this building was barely started. Now I think it is the tallest building in the city, a soon-to-be-open condo high-rise in Little Italy.

We took part in a Jane Jacobs Walk in Ottawa this morning, one of sixty planned for this weekend. A pretty wonderful to start a weekend and expand one’s horizons.

After a long really dreadful winter here, it was very good to get out. Our guide was Luciano Pradal, a 77-year-old human repository of the cultural history of Little Italy. I remember Luciano from my time as principal at St. Anthony School. We were looking for ways to install new gardens to grow food at our school and Luciano came in to talk to me about what we might be able to put together.

This project never took off, but Luciano was a real treat to meet. He introduced me to his book, Chronicles of a Chestnut Lover and I learned more about this wonderful part of the city.

My time at St. Anthony’s was full of encounters like this one and taking part in this Jane’s Walk reminded me of the wonderful people I encountered while I worked here. Today, I took a picture of the tower because it is a good reminder of how much has happened since I left. Our son Liam gave me the title to go with the photo and it really fits.

This neighbourhood is full of great stories. Not only of its Italian past but also of its current immigrant population which now is mainly from Asia. It is also a very high-risk neighbourhood with many rooming houses and drop-in centres for the homeless. It is such a diverse setting for a Jane Jacobs Walk and it truly represents what a livable city can be. It is culturally diverse with a tradition of housing groups of new Canadians that find their collective grounding and move on.

Now with giant condo projects, one of the main threats to this neighbourhood is gentrification as it also has become one of the most fashionable parts of the city.

As a principal, I saw it as my role to get to know everything I could about this community. It was thrilling to work in such a rich and exciting part of the city and I really wanted our school to be an active part of the fabric of little Italy. If I miss anything about my teaching career, I miss this place.

The streets of Little Italy. New condos and derelict buildings waiting to turn a big profit.

There is something that can get lost once you retire. Your world can grow a little small. As a principal, I saw it as my role to get to know this area very well. Meetings with people like Luciano were opportunities to connect and learn where I was. Walking along Preston and Booth streets today was a good reminder.

You need – or maybe I should say – I need – to stay connected. I need to walk the streets and see how my city may be changing. Whole blocks of social housing have been demolished since I left the school. Acres of old federal buildings are about to be repurposed for mixed residential use. This could be a really cool development for Ottawa!

At the end of the walk, I made a point to visit the bust of Dante that sits across from my old school. This bust used to stand right next to the school. It now sits in a little piazza directly across from the church.


St. Anthony’s started out as Dante Academy and the church across from the school celebrated its 100 anniversary in 2013. We have seen wonderful old photos of celebratory masses and marches past the school and the church during religious festivals. The community has changed since these days but there are still Italian celebrations every year that include an old car show, a gala, a great bike race, and lots of other festivities.

Dante Academy class 1925

I remember recovering the memorial to students who fought in the Second World War that had been on loan to the local church. It now (I hope) still hangs in the main hall of the school, a testament to the long history of the two schools in the community.

It is amazing that a walk can stir up so many memories of the past and expectations for the future. After a long winter, we all need to get involved in some purposeful walking. Get out and see what is out there still. Take a morning or a whole day to extend yourself into the community we are all still a part of.

Learn and listen and don’t become small. Yes, I am retired and my world does seem a little small sometimes. But a walk with twenty people you don’t know but who share a love of the city is a good way to stretch into a new season, one where winter has finally retreated.

Luciano finishes the walk in front of St. Anthony’s Church