Vancouver students hope to pull down child poverty rate

CLICK eyes $50,000 target

The team from Windermere Secondary School had just lost a tough tug of war match. The students stood around, cooling themselves off with water bottles and picking shards of rope from their palms.

But Grade 11 student Trevor Lima wasn't dwelling on the loss. In fact, he was talking about law school.

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"I just want to learn about my basic rights and stuff like that," he said. "I'm looking to graduate first, then maybe I'll go to Langara. I'm OK in school. I like learning about the different sentencing."

On Monday, hundreds of teenagers like Lima from seven inner city high schools pulled for glory on the north lawn of the Vancouver Art Gallery. The tug of war competition, Pulling for Inner City Kids, was the kick off of Vancouver's eighth annual Inner City Kids Week. The week is a partnership between the non-profit group Contributing to Lives of Inner City Kids (CLICK) and the Vancouver Police Department.

Organizers hope the week's events will draw attention to the hundreds of kids living in poverty across the province. The event was the first of several fundraisers for CLICK, which has donated money to more than 100 youth programs in the city.

CLICK hopes to bring in $50,000 over the course of the week.

CLICK director Catherine Atyeo said she hoped the week would highlight B.C.'s dismal record on child poverty. For the past eight years, B.C. has had the highest rates of child poverty in Canada, and hundreds of kids go to school without having eaten a proper breakfast.

"You could see a teenager walking down a sidewalk in this city and you couldn't tell that they might not have eaten," said Atyeo. "They don't have money for a bus pass, let alone any recreation or sports. I don't think many Vancouverites realize how much hunger has become an issue."

The initiatives funded by CLICK range from free breakfast services to sports and outdoor programs. The services are delivered outside of class hours, either at schools or community centres, and programs that cater to inner city youth can apply for funding. When Atyeo founded CLICK with an inner city school teacher in 2004, she saw that many youth services were having trouble raising money on their own. "There's all these small programs in the inner city that have difficulty raising money for themselves. So we thought that was the niche we could fill."

One group CLICK has funded is Streetfront, an alternative learning program for kids who have had trouble in regular schools. Streetfront mixes rigorous athletics and outdoor activities with the provincial curriculum. Some of the students in the program have even run in the Vancouver marathon, such as Grade 9 student Lukas Bezanson, who casually mentions marathon running alongside other hobbies including longboarding and lacrosse.

"They're very welcoming," said Bezanson. "I felt very involved, very welcome. My first day there, I met a lot of friends."

Despite strong showings from both Windermere and Streetfront, the team from Britannia secondary school came out on top.

Inner City Kids Week continues with a fundraising silent auction tonight.

jontwakefield@comcast.net

Twitter: @jonnywakefield

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